worst and longest running performance: mercury

Mercury’s performances leave maddening effects on audiences around the world. Although his reputation for causing nervous system damage and birth defects precedes him, many still don’t appreciate just how many performances Mercury continues to star in. A slick character, his metal beginnings are as a shiny, odorless liquid, but he’s versatile enough to become a colorless, odorless gas when heated. And with this leading man’s temper, that happens all the time. His airborne roles occur during coal burning and waste incineration.

Keep an eye out for him in fluorescent light bulbs, thermometers, dental fillings, batteries, auto switches, and more. The build up of Mercury in fish and other animals gets passed up the food chain. So, combined with airborne effects, Mercury has put about 60,000 children born each year at risk for his neurodevelopmental effects. This special kind of actor drives audiences crazy.

  • Just as Mercury was the speedy and mobile messenger of the Roman gods, the element mercury is quick to change from its shiny silver liquid form to a toxic pollutant into the environment. Since mercury is an element, it never goes away. It is a naturally occuring metal that has several forms.  Elemental mercury can be transformed to methyated forms by bacteria in the environment which then bioaccumulates in the food chain.
  • Our most common exposure to mercury is by eating fish in which methylmercury has accumulated.  But we can also inhale it when it’s heated and becomes a colorless, odorless gas, or by ingesting contaminated food and water. In general, the bigger and older the fish, the higher the level of mercury that has bio-accumulated in its tissues. Today, mercury has several industrial and pharmeceutical uses.  It is used to produce chlorine gas and caustic soda, and is also found in fluorescent light bulbs, thermometers, dental fillings, batteries, auto switches, and thermostats.
  • In March 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first-ever national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants. The new standards require many power plants to install widely available, proven pollution control technologies, such as smokestack scrubbers.

Learn more at Commonweal and Environment CA.

Actor: Edward Enriquez. Photo by: Patricia Mateos Ballestero