How to Test for High Levels of Mercury Vapor

Written by natalie chandler
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How to Test for High Levels of Mercury Vapor
The element mercury is number 80 on the Periodic Table. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Mercury is a metal element that can exist in liquid form, evaporating slowly at room temperature. Liquid mercury emits toxic, invisible, odourless vapours. Individuals may be exposed to mercury vapours in both the home and workplace. Materials that can emit mercury vapours include exterior latex paints, dental fillings, thermometers, barometers, pigment, fungicide, insecticide and dry cell batteries.

Elevated mercury in blood may indicate recent exposure to elemental mercury vapour; blood tests can be carried out by medical practitioners. Personal mercury test kits are also available for individuals wanting to test their own mercury levels. Equipment such as hand-held mercury vapour analyzers can assess nanograms of mercury vapours present per cubic meter in any environment.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Personal mercury test kit
  • Hand-held mercury vapour analyzer

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  1. 1

    Purchase a personal home mercury test kit from health-focused websites such Mercury Instrument USA, or ask your local chemist if it sells non-prescription kits over the counter. Follow, to the letter, the detailed instructions included in the DIY test kits. Mix solutions as advised and allow to sit for the recommended period of time. Compare the final colour of the solution to the chart provided to ascertain the concentration of mercury in parts per million (PPM).

  2. 2

    Have a blood test conducted by a professional lab. Avoid eating fish for at least 72 hours before taking a blood test to assess exposure to mercury vapours. Avoid chewing gum and grinding your teeth if you have amalgam fillings, as both can influence the mercury levels in blood. It's possible to identify exposure to all three types of mercury (elemental, inorganic and organic) by testing the blood. If levels are high, your medical practitioner may follow up with a fecal metals test.

  3. 3

    Contact a professional to analyse the air in your home or office with a commercial vapour analyzer. Commercial model vapour analyzers can detect very low levels of contamination -- to parts per trillion.

Tips and warnings

  • The body rids itself of mercury predominantly via urine and faeces.
  • The half-life of mercury in the blood has been estimated at three days, while mercury in the tissue is believed to have a half-life of 90 days.
  • Spilling liquid mercury in and around your home or workplace should not be dismissed lightly. The classic symptom of mercury poisoning is renal failure, therefore monitoring urine output is incredibly important if you believe you have been exposed to mercury vapours.
  • Self-diagnosing chronic, low-dose exposure to mercury vapours includes being watchful for the following symptoms: nervousness, irritability, mood instability, blushing, tremors, impaired hearing, speech disorders, abnormal reflexes, disturbed gait, and renal damage.
  • Observing symptoms such as stomach upset, mouth pain, abdominal pain, vomiting, excessive salivation, lack of appetite, or kidney disease may be indicative of acute, high-dose exposure to mercury vapours.

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