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Cinnabar (vermilion) - Quartz / Opal

In nature, solid/native mercury is mostly vergesellschaftet with cinnabar (vermilion).

Cinnabar (vermilion)


Cinnabar quartz

Photo: K. Sieber, www.makrogalerie.de

The mercury (II) sulfide cinnabar (vermilion, HgS) is the most common mercury compound on the market. Cinnabar in a pure, fresh form is insoluble in water and as a well crystallized, compact crystal unproblematic. However, the situation is very different for cinnabar dust. It can even be absorbed through the skin and is very toxic if swallowed or inhaled.

As a gemstone the mineral is usually offered in the form of cinnabar quartz or cinnabar opal. Firmly bound in quartz or opal cinnabar is harmless. Only in places where it emerges at the surface a decomposition reaction can take place and elemental mercury is produced.


Decomposed cinnabar with beads of elemental mercury

Cinnabar decomposes to elemental mercury when exposed to light. Tiny droplets of mercury may be present on Cinnabaritstufen, emitting highly toxic mercury vapors. When absorbed via the digestive tract, the liquid metal is not dangerous. However, at room temperature it tends to evaporate. Inhaled vapors are highly toxic and cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea and the loosening of teeth. The great danger consists in the accumulation of mercury in fat cells, tissue and organs. Even small amounts seem to have effects on the embryonic development and chronic effects on the nervous system have been proven.

Handling of cinnabar


Example of a CLP label for cinnabar

When handling the described mercury minerals rubber gloves should be worn. Food intake and smoking should be avoided. The minerals should always be stored in airtight plastic containers and out of reach of children.

All mercury compounds are very toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms. They are classified as dangerous to the environment. Therefore, release into the environment must be avoided. Minerals containing mercury must be disposed of as hazardous waste.

Trade with cinnabar

During transfer (e.g. sale) and transport, the relevant provisions of the REACH and CETIS regulations must be complied with. A safety data sheet is required for transfer. For transport (even to mineral fairs) a clear label according to the EU-wide valid regulation "Classification, Labelling and Packaging of substances and mixtures" (CLP) has to be applied.

Further information on mercury (II) sulfide (cinnabar) can be found in the GESTIS Substance database of the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance (IFA).