Information on home tests to detect mercury poisoning

Mercury (Hg) is a silvery liquid-state heavy metal in its elemental form, and it can enter our bodies by ingestion, inhalation and skin contact in its oxidised form as mercury salts, as mercury vapours and as organic-mercury compounds. We commonly use mercury in thermometers, barometers, thermostat switches, fluorescent light bulbs and dental filling amalgams. Mercury bioaccumulates in fish from many waters and in people who eat great quantities of fish. Mercury poisoning manifests itself mainly in neurological disorders, kidney disorders, hair loss and skin discolouration as well as in numerous other systemic effects. A variety of home test kits are available to test for mercury poisoning and mercury levels in our bodies. If you suspect that you might have mercury exposure or mercury poisoning, see your physician immediately.

Test For Mercury Vapors in the Air

Test for mercury vapours in the air by using a solid sorbent tube test kit. Environmental scientists and environmental consultants often use draeger tubes for air vapour testing. Break off the ends of the glass draeger sampling tube and connect it to the draeger pump. Sample a volume of air at a steady rate according to the directions. Seal the sample tube securely and mail it to the testing laboratory. You will receive your results in about two weeks.

Test for Mercury on Surfaces

Test for mercury on surfaces by using a mercury-check mercury-test kit. This test uses swab wipes, which you simply wipe over suspected surfaces. If the swab changes colour, mercury contamination of surfaces may be present. These tests normally take less than one minute to perform. Although swab tests are not quantitative with great precision, they can help detect or rule out surface contamination by mercury and mercury compounds.

Test for Mercury in Urine or Saliva

Test for mercury in urine or saliva using a urine-saliva-mercury test strip test. Several manufacturers of these test strip tests and dipstick tests can be found online. Follow the manufacturer's directions and collect the appropriate volume of urine or saliva in the test tube provided and perform the test as directed. Compare your results with the included colour chart to determine or rule out mercury concentration in the sample. This test is controversial in that it does not accurately measure organic-mercury concentrations in blood and is only a rough indicator of possible elemental mercury poisoning or mercury salt contamination.

Test Hair Samples for Mercury

Test hair samples for mercury using a mercury hair sampling home test kit. Both Greenpeace and The Sierra Club recommend that pregnant women have the mercury hair test performed, and they offer suggestions for obtaining hair test kits. Simply snip off the required hair sample, send it in the enclosed mailer to the testing laboratory and wait about two weeks for the results. These tests are not highly accurate because of variability in hair growth, contaminant retention and variations in hair washing, colouring, perming and other hair treatment processes.

Test Skin, Nails, Feces or Breast Milk for Mercury

Other home tests for mercury poisoning include tests on samples of skin, nails, stool or faeces and breast milk. These home sampling test kits, available on the Internet, involve collecting samples, shipping them to laboratories and then waiting about two weeks for results to arrive. None of these tests or the tests described above is completely accurate and quantitatively predictive of actual blood mercury levels or mercury poisoning.

Blood Testing for Mercury

The best and the only truly accurate and definitive test for mercury levels and possible mercury poisoning is a blood sample collected under the direct medical supervision of a licensed medical professional, analysis of the sample by a qualified medical testing laboratory and interpretation of the laboratory results by your licensed medical professional. All other mercury tests and results are merely qualitative and only cursory at best.

Suspect Mercury Contamination?

If you suspect that you or someone you know has been exposed to mercury or if you are concerned that you might have high levels of mercury in your home or that you have mercury poisoning, consult your licensed medical health care professional immediately. In other words, do not depend exclusively upon any home test for mercury contamination or mercury poisoning. See your doctor at once.

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About the Author

Steven J. Wamback is a natural resources scientist, writer and editor. He holds a Bachelor of Science in biology and a Bachelor of Arts in geology, both from SUNY Fredonia. Wamback's writings and editorial projects include books, chapters, articles, essays, editorials, reports and research publications on such diverse topics as wetlands, wildlife, groundwater, rocks, fossils, sexuality, health, the environment and radio-wave propagation.