Mercury Health Effects

Image of a thermometer Metallic mercury is a silvery liquid that can be found in some thermometers, thermostats, switches, pressure gauges, and other consumer products.

Mercury is a hazardous chemical that can cause harmful health effects when inhaled. In fact, most toxic effects relating to mercury exposure are from breathing contaminated air.

Short-term exposures to high concentrations may cause headaches, chills, fever, cough, chest pains, chest tightness and difficulty in breathing. In addition, exposure may cause soreness of the mouth, abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea. Symptoms may subside or could progress, including more serious damage to the lungs and kidneys. 

Long-term exposure (repeated or prolonged exposure to mercury liquid or vapor) may cause effects that develop gradually, such as fine shaking of the hands, eyelids, lips, tongue, or jaw that could indicate damage to the central nervous system.

Mercury Program Home

Health Effects

Recycling and Disposal 
 -Thermostat Recycling

Clean-up Guidelines

Mercury Call Line

Indoor Air Quality Program


Other effects of mercury poisoning can include allergic skin rash, insomnia, irritability, indecision, loss of memory and intellectual deterioration. Metallic mercury can affect the health of an unborn fetus.

Because low-level exposure to elemental mercury may not lead to lasting health effects, there is less concern about the exposure to a person cleaning-up a small mercury spill. If a spill occurs and is not adequately cleaned-up, however, that can lead to prolonged exposure which could lead to more serious health effects. If you are concerned about your level of mercury exposure, you should see a doctor.

More information regarding the health effects of mercury exposure can be found at:

EPA- Environmental Protection Agency 
ATSDR- Agency for Toxic Substances & Diseases Registry

DHHS- Division of Public Health, Environmental Health Unit
Office of Environmental Health Hazards & Indoor Air, Indoor Air Quality Program
P.O. Box 95026, 301 Centennial Mall South- 3rd Floor
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509-5026
General Inquiries: 402-471-1005
Mercury Call Line: 402-326-0231
Toll Free: 888-242-1100, Extension 4 (Nebraska only)

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