Introduction to Mercury

By Anup Pokhrel


The basic information about mercury is given as:

Group 12 Melting point −38.829°C, −37.892°F, 234.321 K
Period 6 Boiling point 356.619°C, 673.914°F, 629.769 K
Block d Density 13.5336 gram per centimeter
State at 20 °C liquid Key isotope 202Hg
Atomic number 80 Atomic mass 200.592


The compounds of mercury are:


The term hydride mean compounds of the type MxHy and not necessarily to indicate that any compounds listed behave as hydrides chemically.

  • Mercury dihydride: HgH2


  • Mercury difluoride: HgF2
  • Dimercury difluoride: Hg2F2


  • Mercury dichloride: HgCl2
  • Dimercury dichloride: Hg2Cl2


  • Dimercury dibromide: Hg2Br2


  • Mercury diiodide: HgI2
  • Dimercury diiodide: Hg2I2
  • Mercury telluride: HgTe


  • Dimercury dinitrate dihydrate: Hg2(NO3)2.2H2O



Cinnabar → HgS

Livingstonite → HgSb



  • Concentration: at first, the ore is crushed into fine pieces and then powdered into the ball mills. The concentrated ore is then subjected to froth flotation method.
  • Roasting and distillation: the concentration is first mixed with 2% coke and then fed into shaft furnace. The furnace is heated and excess air is blown in. The ore is roasted and forms the mercuric oxide. The mercuric oxide decomposes to mercury. The vapor of mercury distils off along with other gases into a condenser which condenses Y-shaped water cooled pipe.




 fig:mercury extraction
fig:mercury extraction



  • Purification

  1. Filtration: in this method mercury is passed through chamois leather or thick canvas to remove sustained impurities.
  2. Treatment with 5% dilutes HNO3: when impure mercury is passed through the long glass tube containing 5% HNO3, metal impurities are dissolved to give their nitrate or react with nitrate of mercury leaving behind pure mercury.






The mercury thus obtained may contain Au, Ag, Pt impurities which are removed by vacuum distillation and finally pure Hg is obtained.

Physical properties

  • It is the heaviest metal at ordinary temperature.
  • It is silvery-white liquid.
  • It is highly poisonous.

Chemical properties

  • Action with air: it forms a mercuric oxide when reacted with air at a temperature of 623K.
  • Action with aquaregia: mercury gets dissolved when reacted with aquaregia.
  • Action with sulphur: it reacts with sulphur to form a mercuric sulphide.
  • Reaction with metal: it reacts with metals to form the amalgam.


Zn+HgZnHg(formation of zinc amalgam)Zn+Hg⟶ZnHg(formation of zinc amalgam)
Na+HgNaHg(formation of sodium amalgam)Na+Hg⟶NaHg(formation of sodium amalgam)


  • Reaction with halogen: It reacts with halogens to form halides.
Hg+Cl2HgCl2(limited amount of mercury)Hg+Cl2⟶HgCl2(limited amount of mercury)
Hg+Cl2Hg2Cl2(excess amount of mercury)Hg+Cl2⟶Hg2Cl2(excess amount of mercury)



  • Tailing of mercury: when mercury is exposed to ozone, it superficially gets oxidized and loses its meniscus, it is called tailing of mercury. During this process dark grey colored tail of mercurous oxide is formed.



  • Mercury is used in thermometer, barometer.
  • Mercury is used for making an amalgam.


Mercury poisoning

Mercury and it’s compound are highly poisonous or toxic, so this should be handled safely to prevent absorption by inhalation, ingestion and through the skin. It may cause deafness, madness, lung damage, brain damages, and even death. Mercury vapors are toxic because if inhaled it passes to the bloodstream, digestive system, lungs and then transported to the brain.

The industries which manufacture acetaldehyde and polyphenyl chloride in Minamata used mercury compound as the catalyst. They released their effluent in Minamata bay. That mercury compound is was taken by plankton, fishes eat plankton. The people of Minamata consumed such fast and suffered from diseases.



  • Mercury is an interesting thing to study upon for a very long time as a heavy liquid metal. However, because of its toxicity, many uses of mercury are being phased out or are under review.
  • Mercury is used as catalysts in industries. It is also used in some electrical appliances.
  • Previously it uses was in the manufacture of sodium hydroxide and chlorine. It was genuinely used in many appliances like batteries, fluorescent lights, thermometers, and barometers. New technologies are replacing them.
  • ,The alloy of mercury is called amalgam with other metals such as gold, silver, and tin. Mercury amalgamates with gold helped mankind in recovering gold from its ores. Mercury amalgams were also used in dental fillings.
  • Mercuric sulfide is a bright-red paint pigment, but since it is a very toxic element it should be handled with great care
  • Mercury has no known biological role but is present in every living thing and widespread in the environment. Mercury is even present in every single food we intake in our daily life.


Natural abundance

Mercury rarely found in the pure state in nature, but can be found as droplets in cinnabar (mercury sulfide) ores.Mainly mercury is found in China and Kyrgyzstan. The metal is obtained by heating cinnabar in a current of air and condensing the vapor.




Important Questions
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