Mercury

Description: 
Mercury by ICP-MS
Clinical details: 
Mercury (Hg) is a non-essential metal that has the unique property of being a liquid with a measurable vapour pressure at ambient temperature. Mercury exists in elemental, inorganic [Hg(I), Hg(II)) and organic (e.g. methylated forms). Absorption of elemental and inorganic mercury is negligible when ingested and relatively harmless. However, greater than 80% of elemental mercury is absorbed when inhaled, which may give rise to pneumonitis and pulmonary oedema. In contrast > 90% of organic mercury is absorbed from the intestine and phenyl mercury is absorbed through the skin. Toxicity from organic mercury usually manifests as CNS disturbances (e.g. ataxia, muscle weakness, tremor). Organic mercury is found in fish and bioaccumulates in the food chain, therefore large predatory fish (e.g. tuna, swordfish) may have high concentrations of organic mercury in their tissues.

If exposure to elemental or inorganic mercury is suspected urine is the preferred sample. Conversely if exposure to organic mercury is suspected, a blood sample is preferred, if there is doubt a blood sample should be sent. The preservative, thiomersal should not be used.
Reference range: 

Blood < 50 nmol/L (< 10 µg/L) Urine < 5 nmol/mmol creatinine If the patient consumes high quantities of sea food this should be borne in mind when interpreting mercury concentrations

Sample type and Volume required: 
4 mL EDTA whole blood

20 mL urine (hard plastic bottle)

Turnaround time: 
7-10 days, 7-10 working days for whole blood samples
Special sample instructions: 

Send samples promptly to avoid loss of mercury on storage

Storage and transport: 
Stable at 4°C for at least two days. Send by overnight first class post.
Contacts:
Toxicology Department at King's Hospital
020 3299 5881
kch-tr.toxicology@nhs.net
King's College Hospital
Bessemer Wing - 3rd Floor
Denmark Hill
London SE5 9RS
Trace Elements Laboratory at King's College Hospital
020 3299 3008
kishor.raja@nhs.net
King's College Hospital
Bessemer Wing - Top Floor
Denmark Hill
London SE5 9RS
For clinical advice or interpretation of results, please contact the laboratory in the first instance.

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Last updated: 16/02/2016