Mercury exposure in the workplace can be harmful, even deadly, to workers. Its effects can range from discomfort and irritation to the development of deadly occupational diseases like cancer.
Do you know if you are being exposed to mercury in the workplace, and, if so, how can you protect yourself? How does mercury exposure in the workplace cause occupational disease?
If you are suffering the effects of mercury exposure in the workplace, your injuries are most likely covered by workers’ compensation insurance – call your SC workers’ compensation lawyer at Axelrod and Associates now for a free consultation and case review to find out how we can help.
How Does Mercury Exposure in the Workplace Happen?
Mercury exposure in the workplace can happen through skin contact or by breathing vapor or dust that contains mercury – how do workers come into contact with mercury and where is it most likely to happen?
What is Mercury?
Metallic mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that can cause serious, even permanent, injury after exposure in the workplace. Even small amounts can damage a person’s health in many different ways.
Most of us have seen mercury at some point when it spilled out of a broken thermometer. It is a shiny, silver-colored, odorless liquid with a metallic appearance that tends to break up easily and roll across surfaces in small liquid-metal orbs…
At room temperature, it evaporates quickly, and, when it is heated, it becomes an invisible, colorless, and odorless gas that can be breathed. Different types of mercury may be present in the workplace and there are different names for mercury, including:
- Colloidal mercury;
- Mercury metal;
- Metallic mercury;
- Elemental or liquid mercury;
- Inorganic mercury; and
- Organic mercury, or methylmercury.
Mercury is processed from an ore called Cinnabar that contains mercury sulfide, and it is used in many industrial applications (which is why it appears in so many workplaces).
Types of Mercury Exposure in the Workplace
The two primary ways that mercury can enter your system in the workplace is through your skin or your lungs. But where does it come from?
How Does Mercury Exposure in the Workplace Happen?
In most cases, workers come into contact with mercury after instruments, tools, or other equipment containing mercury breaks. Once the container breaks, the mercury can then remain on the tool, instrument, floor, table, or another surface in liquid form or it may release vapor or dust that contains mercury into the air.
If the mercury is not removed, it can remain on the surface or carpet where it was spilled. Workers may continue to come into contact with it and it may continue to release vapor into the air that workers breathe…
Types of Workplaces Where Mercury Exposure is a Hazard
Exposure to mercury is a potential hazard in any workplace where tools or instruments containing mercury is present – that can include landfills, hardware stores, laboratories, water treatment facilities, healthcare facilities including dentists’ offices, or any facility that manufacturers or recycles fluorescent light bulbs or other items that contain mercury.
Mercury is used in many industries. It’s used to produce chlorine gas and caustic soda, and in thermometers, barometers, batteries, and electrical switches. Some examples of workers at risk of being exposed to mercury include the following:
- Workers in facilities where electrical equipment is manufactured;
- Workers in fluorescent light bulb (CFL) recycling facilities;
- Workers in facilities where automotive parts are manufactured;
- Workers in chemical processing plants that use mercury;
- Workers in medical, dental, or other health services who work with equipment that contains mercury; and
- Dentists and their assistants when breathing in mercury vapor released from amalgam fillings.
What Kinds of Illnesses are Caused by Mercury Exposure in the Workplace?
Depending on the type of mercury, the amount that you are exposed to, and the length of time that you are exposed, it can cause health problems that range from uncomfortable to life-threatening.
According to the CDC, mercury exposure can cause “irritation to the eyes, skin, and stomach; cough, chest pain, or difficulty breathing, insomnia, irritability, indecision, headache, weakness or exhaustion, and weight loss.”
Prolonged exposure can also result in more permanent health problems like cancer, damage to the reproductive system, damage to the kidneys, and damage to the nervous system…
If you suspect that you have been exposed to mercury, make sure that your employer knows, that the mercury has been removed, and that you use appropriate personal protective gear like gloves or a respirator to prevent further contact.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms after exposure to mercury in the workplace, inform your employer immediately and seek medical attention.
If you are suffering adverse health effects from mercury exposure in the workplace, your attorney on the Axelrod team can help you to collect your medical documentation, file your claim, negotiate your workers’ compensation settlement, and represent you at any hearings and appeals that are necessary to get maximum compensation whenever possible.