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History

Mercury is the Roman name for the Greek god Hermes, the protector of travelers, thieves and merchants. On the periodic table of elements, the chemical symbol for mercury is Hg, from the Latin word - Hydrargyrum - meaning liquid silver. For quite some time, we have known that high concentrations of mercury can be toxic to humans; the first account of mercury poisoning was recorded as early as 50 B.C. Today, we recognize that mercury is a neurotoxin and that high levels of exposure can lead to serious illness and, in extreme cases, death. Since the 1950s and 1960s, a growing body of scientific evidence has suggested that mercury emissions from human activities, called anthropogenic emissions, are having widespread impacts on environmental and human health.

Mercury is characterized by several unique properties that people have found both novel and useful through the ages. For example, it is the only metal that is a liquid at room temperature and it evaporates, or vaporizes, relatively easily. Mercury can also combine with other metals to make "amalgams", or solutions of metals, and has been used in the extraction of gold because of this property. One of the first metals to be mined, it was found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 1500 B.C. Mercury has been a part of the occult arts and human folklore and has been used in medicine, science and technology for millennia. In the modern world, there are many cultural, commercial and industrial uses for the metal still in practice.