Mercury I Chloride

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The dense white or yellowish-white, odorless, poisonous compound Hg2Cl2 is the principal form of mercury(I) chloride. It is soluble in acetic acid, pyridine and carbon disulfide. It reacts with iodide to form the orange Nessler’s reagent, which is used to test for the presence of ammonium ions. It is also used as a reference electrode in electrochemistry. The compound has been used as a topical antiseptic, disinfectant and laxative for thousands of years. It was especially popular in the early twentieth century when it could be purchased over the counter in a variety of forms for treating everything from measles germs to fur coats. Inorganic mercury salts are also used in the manufacture of electrical equipment, metal alloys and some types of chemical and metallurgical processes. Exposure to inorganic mercury salts may occur through occupational and environmental exposures. Mercury and its salts are also emitted into the air as part of the mining of the element from certain ores and as a byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels. These salts may also enter water or soil through contaminated waste discharges and from the weathering of rocks that contain inorganic mercury or as impurities in other minerals such as cinnabar and metacinnabar.

When ingested orally, mercuric chloride can cause gastrointestinal and neurological damage. Acute poisoning can result in severe ulceration of the mouth and throat, corrosive gastrointestinal tract inflammation, hematemesis, drowsiness, abdominal pain, tremors, malaise, slowed reflexes, gum bleeding, tooth problems and death. Long-term exposure can lead to nervous system disorders, including dementia, mental retardation and behavioral changes such as hyperactivity and agitation.

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