A small dose of ethanol increases the exhalation of mercury in low-level-exposed humans

J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2000 May 26;60(2):89-100. doi: 10.1080/009841000156510.


Inorganic mercury is mainly eliminated by urinary and fecal excretion, but it is also eliminated by exhalation and sweat. There are only a few reports on exhalation of mercury in humans. In volunteers with short-term mercury exposure, an increased exhalation of mercury was found after alcohol intake. The aim of this study was to determine mercury in end-exhaled air and the influence of ethanol on mercury exhalation in subjects with long-term mercury exposure from diet, amalgam fillings, or the work environment. Fourteen subjects, with different grades of mercury exposure, were given 0.2 g ethanol/kg body weight. Measurements of mercury in end-exhaled air were performed before and after alcohol intake. Mercury in end-exhaled air could be detected in all subjects. In 10 individuals without amalgam fillings the mercury concentration was 3 to 12 pg/L. A marked increase, in general about fivefold, in mercury concentrations in end-exhaled air was seen in all subjects 30 min after intake of alcohol, regardless of the level of mercury exposure. Higher ethanol doses resulted in higher mercury levels in end-exhaled air and longer time periods before a return to background levels. An increase was seen even after an ethanol dose of only 0.1 g ethanol/kg body weight (about 0.08 L wine). The decrease in exhaled mercury at higher alcohol doses followed approximately zero-order kinetics and probably reflects the elimination of ethanol in tissues. In conclusion, low levels of mercury can be detected in end-exhaled air also in individuals without amalgam fillings. About a fivefold increase was seen 30 min after alcohol intake, and the relative increase seemed to be independent of the body burden of mercury. Exhalation of mercury represents only a small percentage of the total elimination of mercury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dental Amalgam / adverse effects
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Ethanol / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Food Contamination
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Mercury / metabolism*
  • Mercury Poisoning / etiology
  • Mercury Poisoning / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Diseases / therapy*
  • Respiration*
  • Wine


  • Ethanol
  • Dental Amalgam
  • Mercury