Mercury is a peculiar metallic element, as it is the only metal found in a liquid state at ambient temperature, a fact that does not prevent it from maintaining the physical, chemical and physical/chemical properties of a metal.
It is present in a wide variety of chemical compounds and has different physical, chemical and even pharmacological properties that have given the metal and many of its compounds a broad range of applications in very different fields:
- Electricity: relays, lighting, batteries.
- Chemistry: electrolytic separation of chlorine and soda.
- Measures apparatus: thermometers, barometers.
- Military uses: detonators
- Mineral processing and metallurgy: obtaining precious metals such as gold or silver from minerals.
- Phytosanitary purposes: insecticides, preservatives.
- Health sector: dental amalgams, disinfectants, syphilis treatments, vaccine preservatives.
This means that mercury has long been of interest to the mining industry, which has obtained it from cinnabar (HgS).
The widely developed uses of the metal have necessarily gone hand-in-hand with its toxicity as well as toxicity of its compounds. Mercury reduces microbiological activity in the soil and is a priority hazardous substance according to the EU Water Framework Directive.
Mercury is a persistent substance and, when it comes into contact with the environment, it can transform into methylmercury, its most toxic form and currently the main risk factor. The presence of methylmercury in fish, which are bio-accumulators of this organometallic complex, means it can also accumulate in humans when they eat fish and can, if there is enough of it, effect human health. Health effects associated with exposure to mercury or certain forms of it, including gaseous mercury, are neurological damage and kidney and cardiovascular diseases.
Although there are natural sources of mercury emission, such as volcanoes, anthropic emissions such as the burning of coal and the use of mercury in different products has significantly increased environmental exposure to it and its sedimentation.
Emissions from earlier periods have also created a “global pool” of mercury in the environment, part of which is being constantly moved around, deposited and moved again. New emissions can also be added to said pool, contributing to its circulation in the air, water, sediments, the soil, flora and fauna.
Accordingly, the EU published the European Union Strategy concerning Mercury on 28 January 2005, with the following objectives:
- Reducing mercury emissions.
- Cutting the supply of and demand for mercury.
- Managing existing amounts of mercury in products or in storage.
- Protecting against mercury exposure.
- Improving understanding of the mercury problem and its solutions.
- Promoting international action on mercury.
The Mercury Technological Center has been founded within the framework of this regulation as a firm support for all the questions and requirements that may arise and to increase knowledge about mercury and its place in our environment.