Overview

Elemental mercury (CAS 7439-97-6) is liquid at room temperature and is easily vaporised in ambient temperatures. Mercurous and mercuric ions readily combine with other elements for example sulfur, chlorine or oxygen. Organic mercury can be present in and absorbed from seafood.

Mercury is used in batteries, thermometers, barometers, thermostats, floodlights, streetlights, as a catalyst in manufacturing and it is used to extract gold and silver ores. Most occupational exposures to mercury occur through inhalation of elemental mercury vapour. Examples of work activities involving inorganic mercury and its compounds that require special attention when assessing exposure include:

  • manufacture of amalgams, for example:
    • tin amalgam
    • amalgam of gold, copper and zinc used in dentistry for filling teeth
    • amalgamated zinc used in electric batteries, and
    • sodium amalgam used in the laboratory in conjunction with water as a reducing agent
  • dental work involving mercury
  • manufacture of pigments and antifouling paints (mercuric oxide) and vermilion (mercuric sulfide) in the paint and colour industry
  • extraction of gold and silver from roasted pyrites (mercuric sulfate)
  • extraction of gold from tailings
  • laboratory work with mercury in enclosed spaces
  • the use of mercury-containing fungicides
  • exploration, production, refining and processing of natural gas
  • the use of fluorescent lamps and electrical meters

This guide provides information for those registered medical practitioners engaged by a PCBU to carry out or supervise health monitoring for workers. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the following:

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