What is Mercury?
Mercury (chemical symbol Hg), is a naturally occurring element found in air, water and soil. It is a persistent, bioaccumulative toxic pollutant and exists in several different forms, which can impact individuals through various routes of exposure. Human and industrial activities have increased the amount of mercury deposited in the environment. Once mercury is released into the atmosphere, it can deposit to waterbodies, be converted to methylmercury and then bioaccumulate in fish. Methylmercury (organic mercury) is the compound of highest concern for human and wildlife exposure.
What Devices May Contain Mercury?
Elemental mercury is a heavy, silvery-white metal, conducts electricity, is a liquid at ordinary temperatures and is used in many man-made products: thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs, thermostats, flame sensors, manometers/barometers, switches, solvents, pesticides, batteries, paints, preservatives, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.
Exposure to Mercury
For the past several decades, Mercury (Hg), has received increasing attention as a serious pollutant of concern due to its toxic and bioaccumulative properties. Mercury in the air eventually settles into water or onto land where it can be washed into water. Once deposited, certain microorganisms can change it into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish. Fish and shellfish are the main sources of methylmercury exposure to humans. Methylmercury builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others.The levels of methylmercury in fish and shellfish depend on what they eat, how long they live and how high they are in the food chain.
Health Effects of Mercury
Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system of people of all ages. Research shows that most people's fish consumption does not cause a health concern. However, it has been demonstrated that high levels of methylmercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system.
Mercury in Wastewater
Sectors which have been identified as potential wastewater mercury sources are Agriculture, Automobile Service, Chemical Manufacturer/Users, Dairy Industry, Dentists, Educational Institutions, Food Service, General Commercial/Industrial, Hospitals, Households, Industrial Laundries, Laboratories, Nursing Homes, Pottery & Arts, Printing Industry, Septic Haulers, Veterinary Clinics, and Wastewater Treatment Plants.
Reducing Mercury Releases
Both the US EPA and Ohio EPA issue regulations that require the reduction of mercury releases to air and water, and to properly treat and dispose of mercury wastes. EPA also works with industry and municipalities to develop mercury reduction programs. The public can contribute to mercury reduction efforts by purchasing mercury-free products, correctly disposing of products that contain mercury, and by reducing demand for products whose production leads to the release of mercury into the environment.
Web Mercury Information Sources
USEPA Mercury Web Site:
Ohio Mercury Web Site:
USEPA Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy Site: Wisconsin Mercury Sourcebook
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Mercury Web Site: