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Mercury: "The quixotic bad boy of the periodic table"

Mercury is burned off gold-mercury amalgam by gold miners along the Madre de Dios River in the Amazon lowlands on November 14, 2013 near Puerto Maldonado, Peru. The process releases harmful mercury vapors in the air.

Now that all of the packages have been opened, folks in parts of the country that enjoyed a white Christmas may be staring at their thermometers hoping for some relief from winter's bite -- begging for a rise in the mercury.

Mercury: The element that countless children have abused by putting a thermometer against the bedside lamp is not only used to tell us the temperature. It has some real industrial uses as well. 

Our every-now-and-then contributor from the BBC, Justin Rowlatt, is working on a series called Elementary Business, all about the actual chemical elements that make the gobal economy work.

And he says that Hg, as its referred to on the table of the elements, has been fascinating people since the beginning of time.

"It has an extroardinary relationship with gold. It's used by artisanal miners, the guys you see panning and sloshing for gold in rivers, to purify gold. Mercury is one of the few elements that combines with gold. It creates a solution with gold and what you can do then is burn the mercury off and you're left with a residue of pure gold."

About the author

Justin Rowlatt is the host of Business Daily from the BBC World Service

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