“All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison.” -Theophrastus Phillipus Auroleus Bombastus von Hohenheim

Some scientific topics are so far outside my area of expertise that I need to bring in outside help to do it justice. Today, we’re lucky enough to have a guest post from Adrianne Stone, who walks us through the history of mercury and its actual toxicity in various compounds and doses.

Image credit: Associated Press, via http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/Mercury-pollution-a-step-closer-to-being-curbed-5052908.php.

Image credit: Associated Press, via http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/Mercury-pollution-a-step-closer-to-being-curbed-5052908.php.

If you’ve ever simply heard the word mercury bandied about without stopping to ask whether it’s elemental mercury, methylmercury, ethylmercury or some other molecular compound, you might be surprised to learn that — just like methyl, ethyl or isopropyl alcohols — the shape of the mercury-containing molecule can have vastly different effects on the human body.

Image credit: Adrianne Stone.

Image credit: Adrianne Stone.

Go and read the whole, fascinating story here.

Comments

  1. #1 Natasha Pieterse
    April 30, 2014

    I have read the entire article and must say that it is insightful to know what is actually making so many parents apprehensive towards vaccinating their children. It just goes to show that ignorance can actually kill.
    An article like this that teaches people about the differences between various forms of mercury can aid in the fight to stop unnecessary death from mercury overdose or lack of inoculation.
    Natasha Pieterse, 14030676

  2. #2 Malefo TG 13315278
    Pretoria, South Africa
    April 30, 2014

    Too much of everything is dangerous,people should dose everything to make that thing less piosonous.According to me mercury is not a danger to human beings,it just depends on how much you are using and for what,it also depends on what kind of mercury you are using,because there are different kinds of mercury,and they contain their own dangers.

    In the olden days due to the lack of proper guidelines,people were becoming ill,even death can occur.On the other hand mercury is a very useful substance when it is monitored by good scientist.It can make medicine for children of which is a good thing.

  3. #3 Mlondolozi Innocent Nkosi(14045908)
    April 30, 2014

    I either support or disapprove parents behaviors towards vaccination.A lot has been said about vaccinations, some children have lost their lives and some are presently suffering because of vaccinations.So these parents behavior towards the Mercury is understandable.

  4. #4 Venal S 14006309
    pretoria
    April 30, 2014

    i could not agree more with the quote. To much of anything , good or bad can be harmful to us. its amazing how much we think we know about a subject and how much of it is actually true.
    we are often quick to judge people and their parenting skills, at least we now know why most of them are hesitant to get their children vaccinated.
    its good to have such an informative article that explain the important facts that people have questions about often.

  5. #5 Gomolemo
    Johannesburg
    April 30, 2014

    This article has explained things relatively well the explanations on the different types of mercury is well understood and it shows that having little information may lead to extremes and having a child vaccinated is very important and crucial to the development of a healthy child and ignorance may lead to parents making rash decisions that may impact the child badly

  6. #6 S Muchenje 14314216
    April 30, 2014

    This article has made me understand more about mercury and what exactly it does. Mercury generally has no beneficial value to the body, and is best thought of as poison. However, its continuous use in vaccinations and other types of medicine shows me that although mercury may have negative effects after its use, it is very essential to both parents and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole, since after so many years of research and study a replacement has not been found.
    It is also very interesting to know that you can also get methylmercury contamination from eating seafood that was exposed to it. Removing the skin from the fish before consumption may reduce your chances of possible contamination.
    It is also interesting to know about the deaths and impairments caused in the past, due to the lack of knowledge on Mercury.
    I agree with the author that mercury is not always as bad as it seems, we just need to take the right amount of the right type.

  7. #7 maritza garcia
    Puerto Rico
    April 30, 2014

    I wil not argue about the different properties of methyl and ethylmercury but I would certainly like to know if there are possible chemical reactions during production,processing, distribution or in the organism which transform ethyl to methylmercury.

  8. #8 Westley Ferguson (u14060290)
    Pretoria
    May 1, 2014

    This was a real interesting topic. The importance of childhood immunization was made very clear. However what really amazed me was how such a small molecular change could make such a big difference between two products. It was also very interesting to see the destructive path that the irresponsible dis-guarding of mercury has on an ecosystem.

  9. #9 LLD@14059437
    May 1, 2014

    “Ignorance is bliss” has become a common saying in society but ,like Natasha mentioned, what you do not know can actually kill you. This article mentions that people need to educate themselves on scientific concepts. I agree with this concept and I believe that the issue of scientific misconceptions can easily be achieved in a democratic developed nation. But what about developing nations? Or nations with information censorship? Scientific information needs to be provided to people in these nations who do not have access to the internet or any other source of scientific information. Many of the people in these nations do not have the opportunity to read an article like this. It does not help if only a small fraction of the world’s population is informed. How can we ensure that the larger developing population is also informed about these scientific concepts?

  10. #10 Amy Fourie 14057914
    May 1, 2014

    After reading the article I realise how important it is to be cautious ,particularly for parents regarding poisons. The lethal effects of Mercury are so widely unknown and it is here that I agree specifically with LLD@14059437 that underprivileged populations do not have access to this vital information. There are so many misconceptions in our daily lives but being ignorant to some of these may prove to be fatal. It is therefore vital that people pro-actively seek information to insure safety for individuals and those around them.

  11. #11 NST LUSHABA 14333938
    pretoria, South africa
    May 1, 2014

    As far as mercury is concerned I agree with parents who are sceptic about vaccinating their children. Yes maybe back then ethylmercury served as a good purpose for preserving vaccinations and also it was far less toxic and more rapidly excreted from the body. Regardless of these benefits I would not support any form of organic compound being injected in my child’s body. Mercury, no matter what form it is in, is poisonous and it is not sufficient or correct for people to say that it is only poisonous if you exceed a certain amount of dosage. Our bodies are different and different people can handle only certain amounts of everything, so to generalise and say that a safe amount of dosage for everyone is irresponsible. So compounds containing mercury or other harmful substances should not be used for treating people period. Especially since there are other alternatives that have been developed. Its irresponsible to take such risks with people’s lives because whats the point of giving out vaccinations if they may potentially do more harm than good in future?
    Also I agree with LLD@14059437, all of us that commented here were fortunate enough to be more educated about Mercury because of the priveledge to be able to access information and be information literate. What about people in underdeveloped and developing nations that do not? Such information also needs to be conveyed to those people so they are also aware.

  12. #12 u14059739
    Pretoria
    May 2, 2014

    This is a picturesque example of medical miscommunication . Mercury based products have been stigmatized by society in relation to the consumption of certain fish species and the warning signs on a variety of packaging nation wide . However we need to differentiate the difference between beneficial advancements of ethyl mercury in relation to the harmful methyl mercury . It seems people have a generalisation that mercury only has negative effects to our society , where in fact as stated in the article ethyl mercury have saved countless lives through the era. I agree that underprivileged communities deserve to be informed on the dangers of vaccines containing Mercury to make an informed decision , however this could be in need of a alternate source to make the vaccine a potentially mercury free liquid . I would also like to ask as in how these so called acceptable levels of Mercury within our ecosystems were determined ? Does a mere guideline of what fish to eat relate to the entire society ? A poor community would not pass up eating fish that they caught as it is the only nourishment available to them . This article was really informative about the various molecular structures between the types of Mercury found , I’m sure it will be used in further studies !

  13. #13 Sean T
    May 2, 2014

    NST LUSHABA,

    Your scienitific ignorance is showing here. The science is clear; low levels of ethyl mercury are not dangerous. Low levels of METHYL mercury are. In any case, for the most part, ethyl mercury has been replaced in vaccines, even though it’s not really dangerous. (BTW, you most certainly don’t mean that you would never inject organic compounds into your child; you would FEED your child, would you not? All food is composed of organic compounds)

    The real problem is the lack of ability among many to perform a rational risk analysis. All actions come with risks. Vaccinating a child with a vaccine containing ethyl mercury might be a risk. Failing to vaccinate that child would also be risky; the child might contract a fatal, but preventable disease. A rational risk analysis would determine which course would cause harm with greater probability and which course of action would result in greater harm. Doing so WRT vaccination makes the decision obvious; vaccinating children is the right thing to do.

    It always amazes me when people claim that they don’t want to vaccinate their children, but turn around put them onto a bus or into a car to take them to school (just as one example). Putting your children on a school bus or into a car is a much more dangerous action than vaccinating them. Why do we think nothing of such a risky behavior as driving with a child in the car, but complain about the “risks” of vaccinating a child?

  14. #14 Janet Kern
    Dallas
    May 2, 2014

    1. There have been over 165 studies that focused on Thimerosal and found it to be harmful. A comprehensive list of these studies is shown at http://mercury-freedrugs.org/docs/20140329_Kern_JK_ExcelFile_TM_sHarm_ReferenceList_v33.xlsx.
    2. Thimerosal (ethylmercury) converts to methylmercury and inorganic mercury once it is in the brain
    3. There is an alternative preservative available, 2-phenoxyethanol, which has been found to 100 times less toxic than Thimerosal.
    4. The increase in cost of using 2-phenoxyethanol is less than one penny per dose.

  15. #15 Jaconette Botha u14108942
    Pretoria (University of Pretoria)
    May 3, 2014

    This article made me wonder if South Africa has the necessary laws and specfications to control and determine if industries are not disposing illegal amouts of mercury into our rivers and streams. Do we do enough to protect our environment and the lives of locals who depends on fishing for their dialy survival? In my opinion, we are not doing enough in South Africa as most of our urban rivers are polluted by industries and mines who just dump their waste product in rivers. This waste is not just mercury but a wide variety of other waste products. It is imperative that safe handling procedures be instituted that eliminates and minimises patient, occupational and community exposures. We need to ensure that policies and legislation on mecury use and disposal are implemented in our country and that we adhere to the World Health Organisation recommendations on mercury.

  16. #16 Johan Nel (u14006155)
    Pretoria
    May 4, 2014

    Who would have thought that just one element can have such a drastic effect on humanity . The effects of mercury on humanity has never been given the attention it deserves .Mercury poisoning has been noted in various occasions in history . This article brings insight to how vulnerable the human body is and that the precautions that should be taken to prevent genic implications .Society should be more aware about the elements industries dispose in the environment .Thanks to the influence of WHO and implementations of the South African Safety policies such as WASTE Act, 2008 (Act No. 59 of 2008) , we can expect that the necessary precautions are taken when industries dispose of chemical waste .

  17. #17 mdumiseni
    May 4, 2014

    I feel very privileged to read such an informative article and i think it is important for us to understand that our bodies are different and can handle only certain amount of any substance, so for me it is not correct to say mercury is only harmful when overdosed .

  18. #18 Michael du Toit
    Pretoria
    May 4, 2014

    After having read the above article, I can with confidence say that people obviously realise the enormity and danger of this substance, yet as is the case with people generally, we feel passionately opposed to something however there seems to be no urgency in addressing said matter. It is perplexing. One would assume that the sheer number of times studies showing the dangers mercury that mercury poses we as people would be more accustomed or acquainted with it, yet I, personally, had no actual conceptualisation of the actual danger. Articles, like the above, are very necessary to create a simple awareness of what dangers the unknown (relatively speaking) hold.

  19. #19 u14083389
    May 4, 2014

    This article was very informative about the early uses of mercury as well as the symptoms it causes and the long term damage it can do. This article also informs people about the two forms of mercury and the important difference between them.

  20. #20 14069629
    Pretoria,SA
    May 4, 2014

    Mercury is highly poisonous,so people should be very aware of what chemicals are of reach to the children.It would not be a good excuse to hear about a child killed by mercury due to parent negligence.Oh and Johan,remember drastic effects call for drastic measures,it is better to be safe than sorry.

  21. #21 Nxumalo NZ (14232911)
    Pretoria
    May 5, 2014

    This article shows us how people have become so ignorant. Mercury is poisonous but what they don’t understand is that there is mercury that is less toxic than the other. parents have come to risk the lives of their children just because the substance in the vaccine is toxic. what they don’t realise though is that they are putting the lives of their children in even greater danger. they should learn that there isn’t only one type of mercury. it is toxic but their children can live longer because of that vaccine

  22. #22 Welcome Kgoloko (u14198942)
    Pretoria
    May 5, 2014

    This article clearly depicts how Mercury leads to unforeseen bad circumstances to the society, something clearly needs to be done in order to prevent this from having any further harm on minors as well as the population as a whole.

  23. #23 Senzekile Mabasa (u14106648)
    university of pretoria
    May 7, 2014

    Wow I didn’t know that Mercury can be this dangerous . People need to be informed about this so that they can be safe especially in the case of children. Big up to the blogger of this !!!!!!