What is Mercury Metal?

Elemental mercury

Mercury is fascinating, toxic and must be tested for using approved methods.

Mercury metal has a history full of fascination and wonder. The ancient alchemists considered it the original metal and used large quantities of it in their attempts at transmutation. It was used to construct reflecting pools and decorative fountains in the courtyards of kings. In more modern times, it was used in thermometers, thermostats, and as parabolic mirrors in telescopes. Today mercury is not used as it once was due to its toxicity. Because of mercury’s tendency to accumulate in organisms, it can have very long lasting and slow developing negative health effects.

Proper sampling and storage are important

While proper sampling and storage techniques are important in any analytical process, it is even more important in the case of mercury. In the mid 1980s, scientists discovered that the previously reported levels of mercury in the environment were biased high, sometimes by as much as three orders of magnitude. It was found that, outside of areas in which mercury was being mined, the highest concentration of the metal was to be found in and around man-made artifacts. Paints, electrical components, lighting fixtures, thermometers, thermostats, and batteries were among the common contributors to ambient contamination. Conditions were often worse in the laboratories performing the analyses due to mercury-based reagents and equipment with mercury containing parts being even more prevalent. Lack of knowledge as to the true environmental amounts coupled with mercury’s volatility made unintentional contamination of the analysis unavoidable.

Hazardous to work with

Take caution if you are working with mercury. The reagents used in mercury analysis, particularly low level mercury, are especially hazardous to work with. Be sure to pay special attention to all safety issues and ensure proper safety products are in place at all times. The mercury standards in and of themselves can be dangerous, while the BrCl, hydroxylamine hydrochloride, and stannous chloride all give off noxious fumes that can severely irritate the respiratory tract.

Learn more about mercury metal and approved methods.


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Featured Image: Marmall4, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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