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New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services


Mercury’s Effect on Human Health

Mercury is harmful to human health and is especially toxic to the nervous system – the brain and spinal cord – particularly the developing nervous system of a fetus or young child. Mercury’s effects can also be very subtle taking years to appear.

In humans, mercury is toxic to the nervous system, affecting the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver. Mercury exposure is particularly significant for young children and pregnant women because mercury inhibits the development of the brain and nervous system. Lowered intelligence, impaired hearing, and poor coordination are some of the effects seen in children with elevated mercury exposure.

Adults who have been exposed to higher amounts of methyl mercury may experience trembling hands and numbness or tingling in their lips, tongues, fingers or toes. These effects can begin long after the exposure occurred. At higher exposures, walking could be affected, as well as vision, speech and hearing. In sufficient quantities, methyl mercury can be fatal.

For more information on the health effects of mercury from environmental exposure, contact the DES Environmental Health Program at (603) 271-4664.

Mercury’s Effect on the Environment

Mercury is highly toxic to wildlife. It accumulates in the tissues of fish and other organisms inhabiting mercury-contaminated waters and builds up in the tissues of organisms higher up the food chain, including humans. Eagles, osprey, common loons, river otters, mink, and other fishing-eating animals may suffer premature death, weight loss, difficulties reproducing, and other problems as a result of eating mercury-contaminated fish.

Most of the mercury released to the atmosphere comes from the burning of mercury-containing garbage and the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas to provide energy. Mercury may also become airborne when mercury-containing products are improperly handled.

NH Department of Environmental Services | 29 Hazen Drive | PO Box 95 | Concord, NH 03302-0095
(603) 271-3503 | TDD Access: Relay NH 1-800-735-2964 | Hours: M-F, 8am-4pm

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