How to Test for Mercury Poisoning


Mercury is a common chemical element, and low levels of mercury are normal in human tissue. When released through industrial processes, the local concentrations of mercury can rise to dangerous levels. This mercury settles in water and on land, where microorganisms create a highly toxic mercury compound. The toxic substance can move up the food chain and cause toxicity in humans and animals. Mercury from industrial and household sources can also cause mercury poisoning. Because mercury poisoning can lead to severely debilitating illness and ultimately cause death, it is important to test for mercury poisoning.

Things You'll Need

  • Tissue samples
  • Proper packaging for shipping
  • Medical assistance
Mercury molecular formula
Mercury molecular formula (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Steps to Test for Mercury Poisoning

Step 1

Find a testing facility. You can test for mercury poisoning at a hospital or with a doctor, or you can send samples to labs that test for mercury.

Blood sample and checklist
Blood sample and checklist (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Step 2

Obtain proper packaging to ship your samples. Contact the testing lab to find out how you should ship the tissue samples.

Human blood samples at testing center
Human blood samples at testing center (Image: David Silverman/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Step 3

Test feces for mercury. A feces test can show mercury accumulation in the body and the amounts of mercury processed by the liver. Feces tests are noninvasive, and you can take multiple tests over time to search for changes in mercury levels.

Step 4

Check urine for mercury. Although more mercury is eliminated through feces, some does pass out of the body through the urine. There are several different urine tests for mercury, all of which primarily show the effect of mercury on the kidneys. This test is much less reliable than a feces test, however, and does not account for mercury affecting the nervous system.

Step 5

Get a blood test for mercury. This test shows the amounts of mercury in your bloodstream at the time of the test and is especially effective if you have short-term and high concentration exposure to mercury.

Blood test for patient
Blood test for patient (Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Step 6

Analyze hair follicles for mercury. Between 70% and 95% of the mercury found in hair comes from organic mercury compounds resulting from the ingestion of tainted food. This method therefore works well when mercury-laden fish is the source of toxicity.

Fresh Tuna Steaks
Fresh Tuna Steaks (Image: Tim Boyle/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Step 7

Have a scratch test for a mercury allergy. If you have high amounts of mercury in your system, you may have an allergic reaction to mercury on the skin. People with high sensitivity to mercury may also experience adverse effects from mercury at lower doses than usual.

Anti-mercury activist
Anti-mercury activist (Image: Tim Boyle/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

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Tips & Warnings

  • Most tests for mercury also can test for other toxic metals. Be sure to get as many results as possible for each test.
  • Try to determine the source of the mercury poisoning before you test. Elementary mercury (from thermometers, lightbulbs and dental fillings), inorganic mercury (found in batteries, chemical labs and some disinfectants) and organic mercury (from tainted fish and coal fumes) all appear most clearly in specific tests.
  • Do not rely on any form of self-testing to determine mercury poisoning. If you suspect high levels of mercury in your system, visit a doctor for accurate testing.
  • Look for symptoms of mercury poisoning, such as difficulty breathing, extreme nausea and vomiting, muscle tremors, vision problems and memory loss. Get tested immediately if these symptoms appear.


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