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Author Topic: How much mercury is toxic?  (Read 5903 times)

Offline stevierar

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How much mercury is toxic?
« on: 29/01/2011 22:17:04 »
Hello everyone,

I'm making a little film soon; the film is a pretty simple survival film and as low-budget as it gets (the main camera rig is made of plumbing parts and a car-headrest-screen). I am a massive geek at heart, as is everybody else working on it, and we'd all really like the reason for all this chaos to happen to be as scientifically correct and plausible as possible - with a little leeway for it being a film. Like the opposite of 'The Core'.

If someone were to pour a very large quantity of a heavy metal (thinking mercury?) into a water supply (completely ignoring the water company's filtering and cleansing and security - and length of the pipe) could someone then drinking their tap water suffer from mercury poisoning?

I know mercury poisoning is actually quite real if you like to eat lots of, um, dirty fish - I'm just curious if it would be a plausible threat in a water.

If it isn't - is there anything that is? I've been looking up all the heavy metals I can think of and mercury has a low enough melting point to actually be liquid. I'm sure it would separate from the water, but I'm happy to gloss over that bit :D

Finally! And this would be a brilliantly useful plot-thing - if there was anything or anyway that whatever this thing is - once affected, you're a risk to people around you too; that you are somehow able to poison people you touch/breath on/vomit on/bleed on.

I am just asking if anyone can either agree with my suggestion of mercury or throw some other elements my way  [:X]

« Last Edit: 05/02/2011 10:52:57 by chris »


 

Offline stevierar

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Re: How much mercury is toxic?
« Reply #1 on: 29/01/2011 23:08:18 »
Ooh! Or Anthrax! I forgot to say that.
 

Offline RD

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Re: How much mercury is toxic?
« Reply #2 on: 30/01/2011 03:00:38 »
Lead ? ...

Quote
For many centuries, lead was the favoured material for water pipes, due to its malleability (this use was so common that the word "plumbing" derives from the Latin  word for lead). This was a source of lead-related health problems in the years before the health hazards of ingesting lead were fully understood;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_pipe#History

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_poisoning


... you are somehow able to poison people you touch/breath on/vomit on/bleed on.

You'd probably need something biological which could multiply in an individual, e.g. Ebola virus, rather than a (metal) poison .

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosafety_level#Biosafety_level_4
« Last Edit: 30/01/2011 03:11:52 by RD »
 

Offline Donnah

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Re: How much mercury is toxic?
« Reply #3 on: 30/01/2011 06:31:57 »
Hi Stevierar,

The most toxic form of mercury is vapour, so you could have an evil person putting mercury into inhalers.  The first people affected would be asthmatics.  Of course anyone nearby after they take a puff from their inhalers would get breathed on with some of the toxic vapour.  Mercury crosses the blood-brain barrier, so people subjected to high doses go crazy.  It also has neurological effects, which you could translate into some interesting body movements or lack of physical control for the purposes of your film. 

How is this a survival film? 

I heard that the Nazis used fluoride to keep prisoners compliant, and since some countries (like Canada) fluoridate drinking water in some areas, that would make it a plausible plot.

Have fun!
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: How much mercury is toxic?
« Reply #4 on: 30/01/2011 10:22:32 »
Juts a quick point.
The Nazis may have used bromide for that, but fluoride wouldn't work.
I think you have been misled by the anti fluoridation propagandists.
Mercury vapour is toxic, but it's not the "instant effect" you want for a horror story.
Dimethyl mercury might fit the bill.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dimethyl_mercury

On the other hand, if the plot really needs the effect to be contagious then there's no poison that will do the job, you need a biological weapon.
You can pick one of the traditional ones like anthrax, plague or smallpox; or you can find something exotic like ebola or Q fever.
 

Offline stevierar

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Re: How much mercury is toxic?
« Reply #5 on: 30/01/2011 11:57:45 »
Thanks for your replies! I did think about lead but, being daft, ruled it out for having a high melting point. After posting I found myself on a website detailing the history of water pipes (really really exciting Saturday night I chose) and saw the same. Thank for you that!

That is the problem I am having, with it being in some way contagious - the main premise for the film is about water, it would just be handy (from a lazy script writing p.o.v  ;D) if that would also transmit person-to-person. All I can see, and indeed what you've said, is that it isn't possible - I can figure out an idea to get around that.

I've seen some old news reports, from when anthrax was the terror-of-the-day, about water company filtration stations not being able to cleanse anthrax spores from the water supply. Does that sound correct? Anthrax is a bit more exciting than lead.

If anyone comes into my flat and sees my pinboards and whiteboard covered in all of this - I shall be straight to prison :(



I wrote this reply last night and forgot to post it. Oops.

I am happy that Anthrax has been mentioned! Can someone explain the ways that anthrax could go from one person to another? As far as I know, it'd only be if they'd been rolling around in anthrax spores and then hug you.

Thank you so much everyone! Naked Scientists will certainly get a big thank you in the credits!
 

Offline Donnah

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How much mercury is toxic?
« Reply #6 on: 24/02/2011 06:39:40 »
Stevirar,

Are you planning to be factual with your writing, or use literary license?
 

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How much mercury is toxic?
« Reply #6 on: 24/02/2011 06:39:40 »

 

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