This case takes place in Texas and involves workers who were involved in the demolition of a decommissioned coal-fired power plant over the course of several months. During the closing phases of the demolition process, several workers began to exhibit signs of mercury poisoning, including peripheral neuropathy, tachycardia, and swelling. All of the workers who had been affected by these symptoms were on a team tasked with the disassembly of the power plant’s primary boiler unit. It was noted by the workers that the area was covered with a fine layer of black dust, which spread into the air readily when disturbed. It is suspected that this dust was the source of the mercury
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. What will you need in order to determine if the plaintiffs did in fact have mercury poisoning?
- 2. What are the signs, symptoms related to this kind of poisoning?
Expert Witness Response E-000316
If there are measurements of mercury levels in the air a person has breathed, or in the water or food a person has consumed, these could provide indications of a poisoning. There are blood and urine tests that can show whether a person has been over-exposed to mercury, but these typically only reflect recent mercury exposures. Mercury levels in scalp hair have also been used to determine longer-term exposures, but there are some limitations of that approach as well. The signs and symptoms of mercury poisoning will depend on the timing of exposure (i.e., acute vs. chronic), route of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, or other routes), and the amount of exposure. The major organs affected by over-exposure to mercury are the central nervous system, the respiratory system, and the kidney. Although I am not a physician, I am definitely an expert on mercury exposure and testing for mercury poisoning. It seems likely that the presence of mercury in the power plant could have exposed these workers to dangerous levels of environmental mercury.