To find the residual effects of long term exposure to mercury vapour, neurobehavioural tests were given to ex-mercury miners about 18 years after the end of mercury exposure. Seventy six male ex-mercury miners who had been exposed to high concentrations of mercury vapour (over 1.0 mg/m3) and with a history of mercury intoxication were compared with controls matched for age (within 3 years), sex, and education. Although the extent of the workers' symptoms caused by mercury poisoning, termed erethismus merculialis, decreased considerably after the end of exposure, matched paired comparison showed that performances of motor coordination, simple reaction time, and short term memory had deteriorated significantly in the exposed group. Multiple linear regression analysis of exposure variables with neurological examination measures showed positive correlations between poorer neurological performance and variables related to mercury exposure. Thus the duration of exposure correlated with poorer performance of hand-eye coordination, tapping, and a colour card reading test. Job categories classified by exposure to mercury also had a significant negative correlation with these performances. The period of years after the end of exposure had a significant correlation with better performance of reaction time and digit span. On the other hand, the history of intoxication itself had no significant correlation with any of the current neurobehavioural performances. These results suggest that there are slight but persistent effects on neurobehavioural function, especially on motor coordination, among mercury miners even more than 10 years after the end of exposure.
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