A Scientist Spilled 2 Drops Organic Mercury On Her Hand. This Is What Happened To Her Brain.

A Scientist Spilled 2 Drops Organic Mercury On Her Hand. This Is What Happened To Her Brain.


–In Honor of Dr. Karen Wetterhahn, PhD, Dartmouth College. Case published N Engl J Med 1998; 338:1672-1676.– A Scientist Spilled 2 Drops of Organic Mercury
On Her Hand. This Is What Happened To Her Brain. KW is a 48 year old woman, presenting to emergency
room with a progressive deterioration in balance, gait and speech. She tells the admitting nurse that she had
lost 15 pounds (6.8 kg) over the last 2 months, and experienced several brief episodes of nausea
and abdominal discomfort. You see, KW was a chemistry professor who
researched toxic metal exposure. She had an influential career at a prestigious
institution, and there were few, maybe none, in the world who knew the subject better than
her. About 5 months earlier, she was transferring
liquid dimethylmercury from a container when suddenly 2 drops from the tip of the pipette
were spilled onto the dorsum, or backside, of her gloved hand. To her, this was an incident she had to actively
recall as it was so minor and incidental she didn’t give a second thought to it. She tells the nurse that she had cleaned up
after the spill properly per protocol. Her hands were in gloves so long, it was sweaty
inside. She was pretty sure she didn’t have any
physical contact without barrier with any chemicals. Over the next few weeks, KW noticed something
wrong when she would walk into walls. Maybe she wasn’t paying attention she thought. One day, she almost got into a car accident. She started asking her husband to drive her
to university. Maybe she hadn’t slept well, she thought. Skin-deep, KW appeared to be healthy. But, at physical examination, she exhibited
upper-extremity dysmetria. Dys meaning wrong and metria meaning length. Her movements in the limbs above her waist
were uncoordinated, with intended positioning often missing the target at varying lengths. Similarly, she had ataxic gait. A meaning without and taxic meaning order. Gait being her walk. It was awkward, imbalanced, disorderly. Both of these were combined with dystaxic
handwriting and slurred speech, all of which can point to some potential neurodegeneration
given her past exposure to mercury. She was right to be concerned about her condition. As the days continued, KW reports that she
has a tingling in her fingers that’s getting stronger. She sees brief flashes of light in both eyes. She introduces a concept of white background
noise that begins to wash away her normal hearing in both ears. Her gait becomes more ataxic, speech more
slurred, field of vision more narrowed. A blood test reveals KW’s blood mercury
levels are over 4000 micrograms per liter, 4,000 times greater than the upper limit
of normal. We can conclude here that KW’s neurologic
decline is because of mercury toxicity. But, something’s wrong. Typically, signs and symptoms of this poisoning
are resolved after exposure has ceased. She hasn’t been in the lab for months now
but those signs and symptoms are still present and her neurologic decline is accelerating. KW’s mercury toxicity is acute in nature,
meaning there wasn’t a constant source of exposure to her, and that the one episode
of accidentally spilling on the dorsum of her gloved hand was enough to lead her to
where she is now. We can prove this. We estimate her total blood volume to be about
4.5 liters given her weight of 70 kilograms, measured at admission. This means there are 18 mg of mercury in her
blood. But, for dimethylmercury, studies estimate
that only 5% of the absorbed amount is in the blood, a bit troubling given that 18mg
is already 4,000 times the upper limit of normal. So, where is the other 95%? Well, there’s a bit of basic chemistry to
be known here. Elemental Mercury is a metal. But dimethylmercury, the compound KW was exposed
to is an organic mercury, something that does absorb well into body tissue. The dimethyl moiety means that it is highly
lipophilic. Philic meaning affinity for and Lipo meaning
fat, so it preferentially mixes with fat tissue in the body. Because blood is mostly water, then dimethylmercury
would be found more in tissues and organs that contain a lot of fat instead of the blood. So if 18 mg is 5%, then there is really a
total of 360 mg mercury accumulated in her body at 5 months post exposure. Given that the lethal amount in the body is
around 400 mg and her neurologic condition is quickly deteriorating, KW is in trouble. Is there a way that we could somehow remove
the mercury from her body? Maybe. This brings us back to lipophilicity. Your body removes chemicals and drugs through
a process called metabolism. The central idea behind that is to make the
chemical in question more water soluble, meaning it can dissolve in the water, concentrate
in the urine and be excreted through the kidneys. This breakdown usually takes place in the
liver, where chemicals are delivered by your blood as they flow through your body. The problem with dimethylmercury is that in
the liver, it’s broken down to methylmercury, which is still lipophilic. Even worse, it is known to bind to tissue,
cause free radical damage and oxidative stress, and form complexes which accelerate cell death. The best solution here we can do is trap the
mercury inside a molecule that is water-soluble on the outside. This is called chelation— the use of a ligand
that binds to organomercury molecules. The shape of that molecule is important to
fit the organic metal inside. KW is given succimer. The shape of the molecule traps the organic
mercury inside. The outside mixes well with water, allowing
it to be removed by the kidneys. She receives 3 doses over 24 hours, and it’s
found to be working, because mercury levels in KW’s urine increased by 160 times the
next day. It is repeated for several days. But, it’s not enough. It’s a week later, neuropsychiatric consult
finds severe cognitive deficits in KW now. Her husband tries to speak to her, but she
sometimes stares blankly into a void. If we’re removing the mercury from her blood
now, why is she getting worse. Less mercury is good, right? Well, in this case, it might not be. Chasing a lower blood mercury level is just
chasing a lower laboratory value. Clearly just by looking at her, she’s not
getting better. Her condition deteriorating has little to
do with a lower number from the lab. Removing mercury from her blood, isn’t removing
it from her organs. So, we’ve established 2 things. First is that the organic mercury KW came
into contact with, and it’s metabolite are lipophilic. Second is the bulk of the mercury definitely
isn’t in her blood, but in fat tissue. But which tissue is it in, exactly? It couldn’t be her heart, as that’s mostly
muscle. It couldn’t be her kidneys, as those are not made of
fat. But how about the brain? The brain is 60% fat, and it’s there the
methylmercury is accumulating, causing oxidative stress, forming protein complexes, and inducing
cell death manifesting as her neurologic decline. It’s not limited to just 1 organ though,
it’s going through her entire nervous system. The axons of the nerves, which feed the brain
stimuli are covered by something called a myelin sheath, which helps conduct signals. Myelin is a substance that is also 60% fat. This mercury is accumulating, forming complexes
and damaging cells, disrupting her movements, reflexes, her speech, and her senses. At 3 weeks time after initially presenting
to the emergency room, KW becomes unresponsive to verbal, visual and touch stimuli. Spontaneous and unprovoked eye-openings are
observed. In someone who is not neurologically impaired,
shining a light on their eye would cause the pupil to constrict so as to limit the amount
of light entering the eye. This is called pupillary reflex and it’s
modulated by cognitive factors. When it is slow, it suggests impaired cognition,
and in KW, it’s slow. From the depths of her coma, she is sometimes
found yawning spontaneously, with brief episodes of agitation— screaming, crying and unprompted,
sudden and jerky limb movements. There’s someone inside, but that person
is trapped in a prison of her own comatose body. At the time of diagnosis, her colleagues believed
that her work with mercury salts in the past were the culprit. That maybe she accidentally breathed in mercury
vapors causing the toxicity. But further analysis showed otherwise. Mercury is detectable in the hair,
and in 2mm increments of sample strands, the amount of free mercury found in her body halved
every 75 days, with a maximum excretion recorded roughly 150 days before presenting to the
emergency room. 150 days coincides with the 5 month time period
she gave the admitting nurse. Dividing 150 day with a period of 75 means that
2 half-lives passed since initial exposure at the time of measurement, when she had 4000
micrograms per liter. So instead of 360 mg total, KW was initially
exposed to 4 times the amount, or 1440 mg. That’s almost 4 times the lethal amount
in blood, and means at one point, her blood mercury levels were likely 16,000 times
the upper limit of normal. Given that the mean mercury concentration
of Fresh Atlantic Salmon is measured to be 0.022 parts per million or 0.022 micrograms mercury
per g fish, then to get 1440 milligrams of mercury means you’d need to eat 65,000 kilograms,
or 144,000 pounds of salmon in 1 sitting to reach KW’s exposure. Not only are the number of days physiologically
consistent with KW’s recollection of exposure, but the amount was too. The density of dimethylmercury is about 3
g / mL at room temperature, the 1.44 g of mercury exposure comes out to be about half
a milliliter liquid. Because it is 3 times more dense and comes
in a 95% solution, about 2-3 drops contained the dosage that the professor came into contact
with, and gave us this outcome. It was found after the fact that, dimethylmercury
does in fact diffuse through the type of gloves KW wore that day, and it does so within seconds. The small exposure equivalent to a few drops
absorbed into her skin, embedded into her body and caused delayed onset cerebral disease. It’s difficult for people sometimes to realize
the extent of injury that can present with what seems like trivial exposure. Even in KW’s case, gloves get sweaty, so
she may not have even felt any liquid that spilled onto the outside of the glove on her
hand. The concept of a delayed onset of disease
several weeks to months after initial exposure is not uncommon. You’ve experienced it yourself. Infectious diseases famously have an incubation
period that can range from a few hours to nearly a year before manifesting clinical
symptoms. It happens every year when there’s a new
flu floating around. But can be extreme like during the bubonic
plague in Europe where transmission can occur through touch and manifest itself within
hours. Today, in China and Iran, farmers were unknowingly
exposed to superwarfarins, used as rat poison. Warfarin is a drug commonly used today in
patients who are at risk for stroke. It reduces that risk by ‘thinning’ the
blood, preventing it from forming clots. In a healthy person, bumping your arm forms
a bruise, which is a form of bleeding. That bleeding stops due to clotting. Clots can break off and block blood vessels
like those in the brain, causing stroke. Stopping clotting means bleeding doesn’t
stop in patients who take too much warfarin. And those farmers who were poisoned with superwarfarins
were found with massive abdominal hemorrhaging, accompanied with hematuria, the urination of
blood, before expiring in the hospital due to exsanguination. The process of blood leaving the body in fatal amounts. Because fat doesnt flow as freely in your
body as water, residence of time of lipophilic drugs into fat tissue can be on a longer time
scale than hydrophilic drugs, allowing for things like superwarfarin and dimethylmercury
to accumulate in the fat, metabolize slowly in the liver, and then release amounts into
the blood until it reaches a lethal dose. Only 3 other cases of dimethylmercury poisoning
were documented in history. In 1865, 2 lab assistants who were synthesizing
it for the first time passed away several weeks after doing so. In the 1960’s, another lab worker was exposed
to it. He too suffered a delayed neurologic decline
in the same fashion as KW. In general, its a good rule to not touch things
if you don’t know what they are. Be cognizant of what comes in contact with
the skin. Unless you’re a chemist, you probably won’t
come into direct contact with dimethylmercury the way KW did. And don’t forget, you would have to eat 65,000 kg of Fresh Atlantic Salmon in one sitting to get you to where she was. For KW, extremely high levels of mercury were
found at autopsy in the frontal lobe of her brain. Microscopes revealed extensive neuronal loss
and gliosis, an inappropriate proliferation of nerve supporting cells, throughout her
cerebellum which controls motor function, explaining her dystaxia, dysmetria, and ataxic
gait. Neuronal loss was found bilaterally across
her visual and auditory cortices, explaining her narrowing field of vision as well as the
white noise as it began to wash away her hearing before she slipped into coma. As expected, the amount of mercury found in
her brain was 6 times that of the presence in blood, as the lipophilicity of methylmercury
allowed it access into the nervous system. There was little that could be done that day
when 4000 micrograms per liter mercury was found in her blood. Because KW was a world-renowned expert in
her field, she knew at diagnosis what was to become of her. Once symptoms appear in mercury toxicity this
serious, there’s very little chelation therapy can do as the toxin has started to absorb
into neurologic tissue. The delayed onset served as a means for her
to give advanced directives- to notify others about her story and warn them of the occupational
hazards they face everyday. Today, those who handle dimethylmercury are
to wear 2 pairs of gloves– 1 a highly resistant laminate type that’s found under a pair
of long cuffed neoprene or nitrile gloves. Her colleagues in the science community, as
well as her family, and the United States government all worked together to bring about
an extreme awareness of safety in science, a legacy that lives on today, decades later. KW, in both her science and her story, transcends
the boundary of time. Thank you so much for watching. Take care of yourself. And be well. –In Honor of Dr. Karen Wetterhahn, PhD, Dartmouth College. Case published N Engl J Med 1998; 338:1672-1676.–

100 comments

  1. Happy Medical Monday (which isn’t every Monday, and sometimes isn’t on Monday, but I try my best) 👨‍⚕️👩‍⚕️🚑
    PS Why do people in these videos have 2 letter initials for names? It’s a didactic tradition in presenting case reports. It lightly de-identifies the patient while upholding their humanity. They are, and will always be, more than just “the patient.” Thanks for watching 🙂

  2. When I was a child in the 60's my dad had a silver liquid in a small baby food jar. We would pour it out on a cookie sheet and play with it for hours…if not mercury which would have surely killed us what was it? This wasn't a one time thing and we held it in our hands, put our hands in it…I'm at a loss as to why I'm still alive.

  3. I am a simpleton. Does the fact that she got sick mean that she might not have had enough yeast (cysteine or other thiol) in her diet? I say this because the reaction time was so far out from the incident.

  4. I broke the thing used to check your body temp when i was a kid..cant remeber how i cleaned up the mercury..i was playing with fire

  5. Call BS… Ya Some People can have issues.. We Played with a whole bottle of mercury as a kids… still here 60+ years later … BS….

  6. Solaray product called anti-oxidant
    Blend can take heavy metals out of the body quickly. Probably even in this case if she could have taken it right away

  7. When I was a kid in elementary school another kid would bring mercury to school once in a while not sure where he got it, and I remember we would play with it, rolling it around in our hands,we thought it was fascinating, maybe it was a different type of Mercury, because none of these problems happened to us.

  8. I didn't know it was harmful when i was 7. I would break the thermometer and play with the shiny silver liquid stuff in my hand. Roll it up and down in my palm. Nothing happened. I also remember getting my tiny fingers into the gas tank in our jeep and put my gasoline dipped finger to my mouth because i it smelled delicious . I was stupid then.

  9. WTF is "organic mercury"? Mercury is an element. It is also a metal. There is no such thing as an "organic" form or version of a metallic element, as you appear to be suggesting. If you mean "an organic mercury compound", why not say so? Dimethyl mercury and methyl mercury are both examples of organic mercury compounds. Neither of them is "organic mercury", any more than table salt is "halide sodium". Sloppy terminioligy.

  10. If "KW" was so fundamentally instrumental in introducing new protocols for handling of mercury and its compounds, why is her name a secret?

  11. We are so gifted to have our scientist take sometimes daily risk of fatal infections for our own safety and concerns of survival. I praise and bless each and every.

  12. Wow, the difference between this type of mercury and the Quick Silver I am used to using.
    I know that these days there is a major scare about mercury, but regular mercury is fairly safe, with some common sense.
    With this type of mercury, it appears that it's so much more dangerous that I would not want to be in the same lab as this stuff, while I will handle normal mercury by hand for short periods of time, have never had any problems, but I don't advise it either.
    What a terrible story, I really feel bad for this lady, I am having a hard time trying to understand what makes these 2 substances so different, as it seems like she may have had multiple exposures.
    Back when I was just a kid, many people played with mercury with out having any horror stories and no noticeable effects, even long term, small exposure over time.
    Thanks for the video,very interesting.

  13. I'm just now seeing this. I'm assuming this is what my chemistry professor was warning us about. We were working with chromium but he used this example to show how critical safety is when working with dangerous material; even the best most knowledgeable person in the world can have what was thought to be a trivial accident turn into something fatal.

  14. If this is the case I should be dead by now when I was in high school I pushed a drop of mercury around the desk back onto its bottle with my bare finger that was in 1987. So what the hell was it really.

  15. If you are on healthy diet, you can never find a healthy restaurant, too few! So restaurants are killing people! How nice of them to shorten our lives, so we suffer less evil. 🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️🤺🍕🧙‍♀️😩🏛🤷‍♂️NOTHING HUMANS CAN DO!
    EARTH IS HELL…..0

  16. ahahahaha, organic mercury is what they use for thimersol,…..and you inject it into your bloodstream,hahahahahaha

  17. Fornication (Uncommitted sex, Unmarried sex), Adultery (Affairs, Cheating on mate), Homosexuality (Same sex, Sex), Beastyality (Screwing Animals), Lust Starves Will Lead You to Hell Fire!

  18. A True Christ/Hamasiac Follower or True Messiahnic Hebrew Israelite Must Obey The Laws, Statutes, Precepts, and Commandments of The Most High GOD/YAH!

  19. I was exposed to chemicals on active duty and it turned my whole life into FUBAR!

    The damage is long lasting and the symptoms he talked about I have. Not all of them… A lot of them with my brain. It's like the check engine light is on and the computer popped all the codes known to man!

    Slowly loosing function…slow enough to make me completely insane… It's like living in a dark room, where the only thing you notice is where the flash light shines…anything else does not excist anymore.. Can't wait for my expiration date!

  20. By the way he is speaking, you can tell this is alarmist BS. I did not finish this video. My time is way more valuable.

  21. Growing up in the 70s we broke thermoters all the time to play "hockey" with the mercury. We all turned out finnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnsss I mean fine. Seriously I'm fine. Fined a lot. Damn police. Can't handle their Mercury. And I'm not lying. We played with mercury and I have 3 college degrees. Hmmm. Weak people annoy me.

  22. I remember as a first year student playing with mercury balls from a broken thermometer, 40 years later, still perfectly fine!

  23. Mercury is a conduit that seems to allow electricity type immobilization. Convinced that some pain relieving trials were introduced, the source seems questionable. It is not just her condition to being subject to research, but alternative source to amplify conditions. This is very similar to the " ghost attack or possessed claim" that effect more than science. The sound preposterous, but original alternative pain relief was first mentioned as pressures. Ex. Small finger burn will subside or lessen when pulsate squeezing is applied. She must have true discovery around this time.

  24. This man lowkey used the entire human race as a product with one word…
    They expired in the hospital…
    Is that normal or is that just wierd?

  25. Not a good idea to post such video and especially Information on internet, criminals will take avantaje of this !

  26. In the military, I saw a time elapsed film of a scientist, again a woman, Edgewood Arsenal, who splashed nitrogen mustard onto her face. Within the hour, it ate away all of the front of her face, right down to the jaw, roots of her teeth, the eye sockets… horribly killing her in short order. It happens, and more frequently than we know; the govt. is the biggest offender; a lot is hidden behind "classification" to escape culpability/liability, hell, responsibility.

  27. NOTE: This video is about DIMETHYL MERCURY LIQUID and not mercury metal. Comments about mercury metal are as irrelevant as comments about mustard would be to a video about "mustard gas"!

  28. I understand this is a different type of mercury. But when I was a kid in the sixties we used to routinely play with Mercury.

  29. Guess whats weird you know how glass thermometers have mercury in them, well when I was little I tried to test my temperature with one and I bit on it and it broke and the stuff spilled in my mouth and I started to freak out and thought I'd get in trouble so I spit it out and hit the broken thermometer and never told anyone about it and nothing happened to me and I ended up just fine, well atleast in my opinion

  30. I work with mercury every day,extracting it from medical supplies..we get tested weekly,if we are over 20 mlg,we get grounded and stay off the floor..she was at 4,000!

  31. Awesome presentation of an interesting case study. Concise, scientific, academic without any B.S. obfuscation. Well done.

  32. I cannot trust this video. I'm 64 and when I was very young (between 10 and 14) in chemistry class, we had some mercury to "play" with it and I had more than 2 "drops" in my hands directly on my skin for more than 2 minutes before the prof tell me to not touch it. No problem at all after that.

  33. I would say an immediate blood transfusion right after exposure! Along with a natural water flush and detoxification diet for 14 days! That is straight up poison! You must extract the poison out of her body, prior to it getting into her organs and cells! Time is important! How sad! She should have been in a hazmat suit working with such dangerous chemicals! Why was she working without proper PPE? Sad! You can not cut corners when it comes to safety first yo!

  34. I am thinking try Spirallina from all natural kelp! As its one of the only natural supplements I know, that can remove radiation and hard metals poisoning from the blood stream? You can purchase it at almost any organic market or health foods store? And many grocery stores also carry it! It is safe, all natural and good for the body! Perhaps if she was able to take large doses within the first few days, and did a all natural water flush and detoxification for the first 14 days? She would have faired a lot better? They often tell cancer patients to take it, as it helps remove the toxins caused from their radiation chemo treatments? Spiralina is one of mans best friends, in this chemical world! How Sad!

  35. This is a story told to everyone in organic chemistry. I've spilled so much ChCl3 on my glove…. I probably have cancer.

  36. When I was in elementary school science class teachers used to pass around a ball of mercury. Everyone would roll it around in their hands and pass it to next kid . Several times a ball fell out of someone’s hand and broke into a bunch of pieces flying across the floor never to be retrieved. Don’t believe I ever got sick from that .

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