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How to make and use a simple retort for separating gold-mercury amalgam
Mercury is used in amalgamation to recover gold in its native or 'free' form. While mercury
simplifies the process greatly, it must be remembered that it is a very dangerous substance,
especially when inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
Mercury is an 'accumulative' poison, meaning that repeated exposure, even of very small
amounts, can build up in the body, leading eventually to mercury poisoning.
Mercury released into the atmosphere is also dangerous because it combines easily with other
substances (such as hydrocarbons) to form compounds which can easily be taken up by other
organisms, such as fish and shellfish. A build-up of mercury in these organisms can make them
dangerous to eat.
Signs of serious mercury poisoning include stomach pains, vomiting, headaches, shaking,
collapse, diarrhoea and, occasionally, cardiac weakness. Indications of low-Ievel mercury
poisoning include nervousness, depression, vague fears, sleeping difficulties, reduced vision and
poor co-ordination of the
Oxy-acetylene torch
Discharge end
Charcoal fire
Figure 1: A Simple Retort
A glass of water
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