Inhalational mercury toxicity from artisanal gold extraction reported to the Oregon poison center, 2002–2015

Matthew J. Noble, Stewart L. Decker, B (Zane) Horowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Context: Mercury exposure has been described among small-scale gold mining communities in developing countries, but reports of inhalational mercury toxicity among home gold extractors in the US remain uncommon. Objective: We sought to identify inhalational mercury exposures and toxicity among artisanal gold extractors. Methods: This is an observational case series of a single Poison Center database from 2002–2015. We review all cases of “mercury” or “mercury inhalation” exposures, with detailed description of a recent representative case. Results: Nine cases were reported, with patients’ ages ranging 32–81 years. Eight (89%) patients were male. Seven of eight (88%) patients with acute exposures reported pulmonary symptoms consistent with mercury vapor inhalation such as dyspnea and cough; two (29%) patients had severe toxicity requiring intubation. Four of six (67%) patients had markedly elevated whole blood mercury concentrations up to 346 mcg/L; each received a different chelation regimen. Four (44%) patients used methamphetamines at the time of their exposure. The case report describes a patient with elevated mercury concentrations who required intubation for hypoxic respiratory failure. He received chelation therapy based on chelator availability, with decreasing 24-hour urine mercury concentrations. The house where he was exposed remains uninhabitable from elevated ambient mercury vapor concentrations. Conclusion: Artisanal gold extraction may be associated with inhalational mercury toxicity, including elevated blood mercury concentrations and acute hypoxic lung injury requiring intubation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-5
Number of pages5
JournalClinical Toxicology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Jun 22 2016

Fingerprint

Poisons
Mercury
Gold
Toxicity
Intubation
Chelation
Blood
Vapors
Chelation Therapy
Inhalation Exposure
Gold mines
Methamphetamine
Acute Lung Injury
Chelating Agents
Cough
Developing countries
Respiratory Insufficiency
Dyspnea
Inhalation
Developing Countries

Keywords

  • gold extraction
  • intubation
  • lung injury
  • Mercury inhalation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology

Cite this

Inhalational mercury toxicity from artisanal gold extraction reported to the Oregon poison center, 2002–2015. / Noble, Matthew J.; Decker, Stewart L.; Horowitz, B (Zane).

In: Clinical Toxicology, 22.06.2016, p. 1-5.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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