A review of Thimerosal (Merthiolate) and its ethylmercury breakdown product: specific historical considerations regarding safety and effectiveness

J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2007 Dec;10(8):575-96. doi: 10.1080/10937400701389875.


Thimerosal (Merthiolate) is an ethylmercury-containing pharmaceutical compound that is 49.55% mercury and that was developed in 1927. Thimerosal has been marketed as an antimicrobial agent in a range of products, including topical antiseptic solutions and antiseptic ointments for treating cuts, nasal sprays, eye solutions, vaginal spermicides, diaper rash treatments, and perhaps most importantly as a preservative in vaccines and other injectable biological products, including Rho(D)-immune globulin preparations, despite evidence, dating to the early 1930s, indicating Thimerosal to be potentially hazardous to humans and ineffective as an antimicrobial agent. Despite this, Thimerosal was not scrutinized as part of U.S. pharmaceutical products until the 1980s, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finally recognized its demonstrated ineffectiveness and toxicity in topical pharmaceutical products, and began to eliminate it from these. Ironically, while Thimerosal was being eliminated from topicals, it was becoming more and more ubiquitous in the recommended immunization schedule for infants and pregnant women. Furthermore, Thimerosal continues to be administered, as part of mandated immunizations and other pharmaceutical products, in the United States and globally. The ubiquitous and largely unchecked place of Thimerosal in pharmaceuticals, therefore, represents a medical crisis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ethylmercury Compounds / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Legislation, Drug
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical* / adverse effects
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical* / pharmacokinetics
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical* / pharmacology
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical* / standards
  • Thimerosal* / adverse effects
  • Thimerosal* / pharmacokinetics
  • Thimerosal* / pharmacology
  • Thimerosal* / standards
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration
  • Vaccines* / adverse effects
  • Vaccines* / chemistry
  • Vaccines* / standards


  • Ethylmercury Compounds
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical
  • Vaccines
  • Thimerosal