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Publication #FAR5035

Protecting Your Family from Exposure to Mercury1

Donna Davis2

Figure 1. 
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The first time I actually saw a broken thermometer and what appeared to be really cool little liquid silver pearls that fell from it, I knew not to touch. Today's young families don't often encounter the old mercury thermometers anymore, but it doesn't mean they don't encounter mercury.

Mercury affects children in a variety of ways. Fetuses and very young children are most at risk from mercury and, when exposed, may become susceptible to problems of their nervous and digestive systems, as well as kidney damage. Pregnant and nursing mothers should also be cautious of exposure to mercury, whether through the air they breathe or the foods they eat. Mercury in the mother's body passes to the fetus and may accumulate there, potentially resulting in brain damage, mental retardation, blindness, and seizures. It can also pass to a nursing infant through breast milk.

To protect your family from exposure to mercury, carefully handle and dispose of products that contain mercury, such as thermometers or fluorescent light bulbs. Don't vacuum up spilled mercury because it will vaporize and increase exposure. If a large amount of mercury has been spilled, contact your health department. Additionally, be aware of mercury levels in medications and in the fish and wildlife you may consume. Parents should also be aware of mercury in your children's schools and consider talking with teachers and school administrators about their plan to keep your children safe.

For additional resources on understanding mercury and protecting your family, contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at

Listening, learning, and living together: it's the science of life. "Family Album" is a co-production of University of Florida IFAS Extension, the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, and of WUFT-FM. If you'd like to learn more, please visit our website at

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Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2006). Medical management guidelines for mercury. Retrieved September 12, 2012 from

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2006). Toxicological profile for mercury. Retrieved September 18, 2012, from

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2007). ToxFAQs for Mercury. Retrieved September 18, 2012, from

Medline Plus. (2007). Mercury. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from

University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. (2004). Healthy home – mercury and your health: safety tips for families. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2007). Mercury. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from



This document is FAR5035, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Broadcast as program 289 and published February 2009. Revised April 2009. Reviewed January 2015. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at


Donna Davis, senior producer, Family Album Radio, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.