December 08, 2019

How does mercury affect our health?

Two weeks ago, the country was shocked after Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i revealed that sugar sold to unsuspecting Kenyans contained mercury.

CS Matiang’i said samples carried out on 1,400 bags of illegal sugar seized revealed that some of the sugar contained dangerous elements such as mercury and copper.

“It is shocking that some of this sugar has been found to contain particles of mercury and copper, which is very dangerous to our lives,” said Matiang’i.

The elements, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), are dangerous if consumed by human beings and exposure even to small amounts may cause serious health problems.

Elemental and methyl mercury are toxic to the central and peripheral nervous systems.

Inhaling of mercury vapour can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal to the victim.

Inorganic salts found in mercury ‘can eat away’ the skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract – the stomach and intestines – and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested.

Neurological and behavioural disorders may also be observed after inhalation, ingestion or dermal exposure of different mercury compounds.

Copper, on the other hand, is a naturally occurring element which has many practical uses in our society and is commonly found in coins, electrical wiring, and pipes.

It is an essential element for living organisms, including humans, and in small amounts-necessary in our diet to ensure good health.

However, too much copper can cause adverse health effects, including vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, and nausea and it has also been associated with liver damage and kidney disease.

Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) would a week later dismiss Matiang’i’s revelation indicating that thorough tests on sugar samples confirmed there was no mercury.

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