Photograph of thermometer bulb containing mercury metal

Wikimedia Commons

Mercury is the only metal that is a liquid at cool room temperature.  This gives it numerous uses in instrumentation.  It is also valuable for its alloys (amalgams) used to extract gold and for dental fillings. Mercury fulminate was still occasionally used in primers for small arms ammunition and detonators. Mercury was quite expensive at $2.43 a pound (1941 price).

Most of the world’s mercury is produced in Italy and Spain. Smaller amounts are produced in California and other parts of North America. Japan produced just 88 tons a year at the Nara mine, which forced the Japanese to impose great economies in its use.

Mercury compounds are moderately to extremely toxic, depending on the oxidation state (mercuric being more toxic than mercurous) and solubility.  Mercurous chloride, or calomel, is so insoluble that it is only slightly toxic, but mercuric chloride is a deadly poison.  Methyl mercury is one of the most toxic heavy metal compounds known.  After the war, careless disposal poisoned Minamata Bay in Japan and resulted in over 3,000 poisonings and birth defects.

Mercury mines in the Pacific




New Almaden



Van Royen and Bowles (1952)

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