Health effects of long-term mercury exposure among chloralkali plant workers

Am J Ind Med. 2001 Jan;39(1):1-18. doi: 10.1002/1097-0274(200101)39:1<1::aid-ajim1>;2-n.


Background: Inorganic mercury is toxic to the nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive system. We studied the health effects of mercury exposure among former employees of a chloralkali plant that operated from 1955 to 1994 in Georgia.

Methods: Former plant workers and unexposed workers from nearby employers were studied. Exposure was assessed with a job-exposure matrix based on historical measurements and personnel records. Health outcomes were assessed with interviews, physical examinations, neurological and neurobehavioral testing, renal function testing, and urinary porphyrin measurements. Exposure-disease associations were assessed with multivariate modeling.

Results: Exposed workers reported more symptoms, and tended toward more physical examination abnormalities, than unexposed workers. Exposed workers performed worse than unexposed subjects on some quantitative tests of vibration sense, motor speed and coordination, and tremor, and on one test of cognitive function. Few findings remained significant when exposure was modeled as a continuous variable. Neither renal function nor porphyrin excretion was associated with mercury exposure.

Conclusions: Mercury-exposed chloralkali plant workers reported more symptoms than unexposed controls, but no strong associations were demonstrated with neurological or renal function or with porphyrin excretion.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / chemically induced
  • Alkalies
  • Behavior / drug effects
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chemical Industry*
  • Chlorides
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Georgia
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Kidney / drug effects
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Mercury / adverse effects*
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Neural Conduction / drug effects
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Neuropsychology
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Physical Examination
  • Porphyrins / urine
  • Pregnancy
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensory Thresholds / drug effects
  • Tremor / chemically induced
  • Vibration


  • Alkalies
  • Chlorides
  • Porphyrins
  • Mercury