Mercury is a ubiquitous environmental toxin that causes a wide range of adverse health effects in humans. Three forms of mercury (elemental, inorganic, and organic) exist, and each has its own profile of toxicity. Exposure to mercury typically occurs by inhalation or ingestion. Readily absorbed after its inhalation, mercury can be an indoor air pollutant, for example, after spills of elemental mercury in the home; however, industry emissions with resulting ambient air pollution remain the most important source of inhaled mercury. Because fresh-water and ocean fish may contain large amounts of mercury, children and pregnant women can have significant exposure if they consume excessive amounts of fish. The developing fetus and young children are thought to be disproportionately affected by mercury exposure, because many aspects of development, particularly brain maturation, can be disturbed by the presence of mercury. Minimizing mercury exposure is, therefore, essential to optimal child health. This review provides pediatricians with current information on mercury, including environmental sources, toxicity, and treatment and prevention of mercury exposure.
- Copyright © 2001 American Academy of Pediatrics