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Abstract

Evaluation of exposure to mercury in an environmental or an occupational context is more complex than that for many other substances, insofar as it requires consideration of a combination of factors including the form of mercury present and the associated toxicology (e.g., elemental vs. organic vs. inorganic), as well as characteristics of the individual/exposure being evaluated (e.g., route, frequency, duration, and magnitude of exposure). Given the major differences in absorption of mercury forms by route, it is not sufficient to discuss simply “mercury exposure”, as often occurs in media reports. Methods for addressing each of these characteristics are discussed, and specific case studies are presented to illustrate the practical significance of differences in contact with several common mercury forms that may be encountered under variable exposure circumstances. In addition, a discussion is presented of the variability of responses between adults and children to selected mercury forms, with attention to similarities or differences in observed effects. Finally, common sources of mercury exposure to the general population are discussed, for purposes of comparison with potential exposures in the workplace.



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