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Mercury hazards traditionally have been associated with the gold mining industry in the United States and continue to pose hazards to present day miners. In her 1925 book Industrial Poisons of the United States, Dr. Alice Hamilton recognized the severe hazards of mercury in mining. 1 In 1997, mercury continues to present risks to miners.

Mercury is a cumulative poison which can affect the brain, the central nervous system and the reproductive system. It can be absorbed by inhalation, ingestion and through the skin. 2 3 If proper care is not taken at the worksite, miners can carry contaminants home and expose their families.4 Because it has no warning properties, individuals often underestimate the hazard of exposure to mercury.

The amount of gold produced in the United States has increased tenfold since 1980; employment in gold mining has increased greatly in the same period. In the past six years, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has found many overexposures involving mercury. Because of these overexposures and their corresponding serious potential risks for miners, MSHA has developed this document which discusses mercury hazards and current 'Best Practices' to reduce exposure in the gold and silver mining industries. The 'Best Practices' section recommends procedures and activities that a mine operator or health and safety professional can use to ensure the miner a healthful worksite.

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