Environmental factors.
Large amounts of mercury become airborne when coal, oil, wood, or natural gas are burned as fuel or when mercury-containing garbage is incinerated. Once on the air, mercury can fall to the ground with rain and snow, landing on soil or in bodies of water, causing contamination.

Lakes and rivers are also contaminated when there is a direct discharge of mercury-laden industrial and municipal waste into these water bodies. Once present, mercury accumulates in the tissue of fish and other organisms and may ultimately reach the dinner table.

Although mercury is a very useful element with many unique properties and applications, it poses a very real health risk. We can minimize this risk by reducing our use of mercury-containing products and properly disposing of mercury-containing waste.

Mercury: it's a Dual Threat.
While Mercury is one of the most useful of the heavy metals found in our daily lives, it is also one of the most deadly. 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. Recent studies have linked mercury exposure to increased risk of heart attack in men, to mental retardation and neurological disorders in children, and to dangerous levels of mercury in the blood of women of childbearing age.

Liability of mercury.
Not only is Mercury a threat to our quality of life when it is not properly recycled, it can 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

Mercury in the Environment
Mercury has become an environmental pollutant because agricultural, industrial, commercial and household products and wastes containing mercury are not properly managed, allowing the mercury to escape into the atmosphere and waterways.
Mercury has long been known to be toxic; the phrase “mad as a hatter” refers to the 19th-century occupational disease that resulted from prolonged contact with the mercury used in the manufacture of felt hats. Some workers today, especially laboratory technicians, nurses, and machine operators, continue to be exposed to mercury on the job. Elemental mercury (the silver liquid familiar from thermometers) is the most common occupational source of exposure. Exposure typically comes from inhaling mercury vapors For most us, fluorescent lamps present the single greatest risk of mercury exposure in the work place. A recent study of exposure to broken “low mercury” lamps by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection entitled “Release of Mercury from Broken Fluorescent Bulbs”* demonstrated that “elevated airborne levels of mercury could exist in the vicinity of recently broken lamps, and …could exceed occupational exposure limits.”

Elemental mercury and mercury salts, although fairly inert when deposited on the bottom of waterways, are converted into organic mercury, typically methylmercury, by microorganisms. Organic mercury compounds, especially methylmercury, are more toxic than other forms because they easily cross cell membranes. Methylmercury then enters the food chain where it is biomagnified up to 100,000 times in predacious fish. Eagles, osprey, loons,turtles, mink, otters, and other fish eating creatures are at risk from eating mercury-contaminated fish. Mercury in their diets can cause early death, weight loss, and problems with their ability to reproduce. Unfortunately, wildlife cannot read fish advisories or change their eating habits in order to avoid mercury contamination
.
The most common human exposure to methylmercury is through consumption of contaminated fish or animals that eat fish. Minamata disease was named after the occurrence, in the 1950s and 1960s in Minamata, Japan, of many cases of severe mercury poisoning. It was found that a chemicals factory was discharging mercury-containing wastes into the local waters, contaminating fish that residents caught for food.



 

Safe Handling of Mercury and Mercury Compounds
University of California Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Environmental Safety & Health Manual Document 14.5 Safe Handling of Mercury and Mercury Compounds

United States Environmental Protection Agency Sites
- Mercury Information Home Site
- Mercury Information for Consumers
- Mercury Information for Parents
- Mercury Information for Schools
- Mercury Information for Health Care Providers
- Mercury Information for Business & Industry
- Mercurio en Espanol
- EPA Region 5 Mercury Workgroup

Merc Alert
Merc Alert provides a basic education on mercury in our environment. Developed by the Western Lake Superior Sanitation District with support from the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, to mercury pollution at its source.

NEWMOA Mercury Program
Northeast Waste Management Officials Association site to help states "achieve their 'virtual elimination' goal for mercury by focusing in particular on efforts to reduce or eliminate mercury from the waste stream." Information includes:
• Instructions for cleaning up small liquid mercury spills in households
• Mercury-added Products Database
• Indoor Air Mercury - a report describing why mercury is a problem in indoor air with guidelines for mercury exposure limits

 



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