|What is Mercury?
Mercury, also known as quicksilver, is an element
that does not break down. It occurs naturally and is found in very small
amounts in air, water, rocks, and soil. It becomes airborne when rocks break
down, volcanoes erupt, and the soil decomposes. It then circulates and
is redistributed throughout the environment.
Mercury: it's a Dual Threat.
While Mercury has been very useful, it
is also one of the most dangerous. When carelessly handled or improperly
disposed of, mercury gets into drinking water, lakes, rivers and streams
and becomes a clear threat to human health and the environment. For more
information on health issues related to Mercury, see the links on this
page to EPA's web page.
Liability of mercury.
Not only is Mercury a threat to our quality
of life when it is not properly recycled, it could also be a significant
threat to the overall health of your business. Local and state
environmental regulations combine with the strict EPA enforcement of the
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Comprehensive
Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) to
regulate mercury and ensure that it is not mismanaged when disposed.
Products That Contain Mercury
Mercury metal has many uses. Because of its high density, it is used in
barometers and manometers. With its high rate of thermal expansion that is
fairly constant over a wide temperature range, mercury is found extensively in
thermometers and thermostats. Mercury is important as an electrical contact for
switches. Mercury conducts the charge in fluorescent lamps. Mercury-vapor lamps,
which emit light rich in ultraviolet radiation, are used for street lighting, in
water treatment plants as a disinfectant, and in tanning beds. Mercury is used
as an electrode in the production of chlorine and sodium hydroxide and in
certain electric batteries.
Mercury compounds have many uses. Calomel (mercurous chloride, Hg2Cl2) is a
standard in electrochemical measurements and in medicine as a purgative.
Mercuric chloride (corrosive sublimate, HgCl2) is an insecticide, a rat poison,
and a disinfectant. Mercuric oxide is used in skin ointments. Mercuric sulfate
is a catalyst in organic chemistry. Vermilion, a red pigment, is mercuric
sulfide; another crystalline form of the sulfide (also used as a pigment) is
black. Mercury fulminate, Hg(CNO)2, is a detonator. Mercury forms many organic
compounds. Mercurochrome (in 2% aqueous solution) is used in medicine as a
Most mercury pesticides have been withdrawn from the U.S. market, and many
countries banned ocean dumping of mercury and other pollutants in 1972.
Production of mercury-containing interior and exterior paints in the United
States was phased out in 1991. Mercury, which has been used in medicines for
hundreds of years, continues to be used in various folk remedies that deliver
exposures. The use of mercury in dental amalgam for tooth fillings has stirred
escalating controversy in recent years. Most other medical uses have been banned
or are being phased out, and state and federal agencies are encouraging industry
to reduce the amount of mercury being used and exported.