What is Mercury?

As one of the 92 basic atomic elements, mercury occurs naturally in the environment in both the metallic or elemental state. Metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white, odorless liquid. If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas. Mercury combines with other elements, such as chlorine, sulfur, or oxygen, to form inorganic mercury compounds or “salts,” which are usually in the form of white powders or crystals. Mercury also combines with carbon to make organic mercury compounds. The most common one, methylmercury, is produced mainly by microscopic organisms in the water and soil. Mercury introduced into the environment from industrial sources, can increase the amounts of methylmercury that these small organisms make.

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