United Press International In their attempts to ward off evil spirits, practitioners of voodoo and similar religions apparently invite into their homes an insidious danger - mercury, a researcher says.

A survey of 115 stores that sell "magical medicines" and other supplies for practitioners of Latin American and Caribbean religions like Santeria and voodoo found that 99 of the so-called botanicas sold mercury in various forms.In addition, a "brief survey" of botanicas in Mexico, Colombia and the Dominican Republic "revealed that they too dispense mercury," according to a letter published in the British journal Nature.

"Of 28 botanicas visited in New York City, 13 prescribed that mercury be sprinkled on the floor or mixed with soap and water used to mop the floor, to rid the house of evil influences or for other purposes," wrote Arnold Wendroff of New York, who conducted the survey.