Elemental mercury is primarily absorbed via inhalation of its vapor but also may be absorbed dermally. Absorption by the gastrointestinal tract is usually negligible. Intramuscular injections of mercury can induce abscess and granuloma formation; delayed systemic toxicity can occur.23 Intravenous injections have produced mercury pulmonary and systemic emboli. Both mercuric salts and organic mercury are absorbed primarily through the gastrointestinal tract, with the short-chained alkyl organic compounds being better absorbed than the aryl organic compounds. Elemental mercury crosses the blood-brain barrier, where it is ionized and trapped in the CNS. Mercuric salts are deposited in the ionized form primarily in the kidney, as well as in the liver and spleen. The salts do not enter the CNS in consequential amounts.
With organic mercury compounds, the highly lipid-soluble short-chained alkyls easily cross membranes, accumulating in RBCs, the CNS, liver, kidney, and the fetus. Longer-chained alkyl and the aryl compounds are biotransformed into inorganic mercuric ions in the body. Therefore, toxicity with these compounds more closely resembles inorganic mercury toxicity.
Inorganic and the aryl organic mercurials are eliminated in the urine and feces. The short-chained alkyl compounds are primarily excreted in the bile, where they undergo significant enterohepatic circulation.
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