Mercury: Dangers and Disposal

mercury_productsWhat is Mercury?

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal. It has been used in many household, medical and industrial products because of its unique properties. Mercury is a liquid at room temperature, conducts electricity and combines easily with other metals. Less than one third of the mercury found in the environment is naturally occurring. Most is released as pollution from coal burning for power generation, from industry, and from improper disposal of mercury-containing household products.

What are the dangers of Mercury?

Mercury is a toxin that attacks the central nervous system when ingested or inhaled. Mercury evaporates very slowly. If it is spilled or stored improperly, mercury evaporation can cause continual contamination of the air. Mercury also readily seeps into lakes and waterways. It builds up in the tissue of fish and animals that we eat, which contaminates the food chain and puts humans at risk.

Mercury is toxic even in very small amounts. It only takes 3 grams (1/25 of a teaspoon) of mercury to contaminate a 60-acre lake. A typical mercury thermometer alone contains about 2 grams or mercury.

Where is Mercury in my home?

There are several household items that contain mercury. These items pose no threat when used properly, but can be hazardous if misused or improperly disposed of. Look for the mercury-containing items in your home:

>Thermometers (with silver-colored liquid inside)
>Thermostats (non-electronic)
>Fluorescent light bulbs
>Gauges (barometers, manometers)
>Clothes irons (automatic or tilt shut-offs)
>Elemental mercury (silver-colored liquid, sometimes found in children’s chemistry sets)
>Batteries (mercuric oxide and some alkaline batteries)
>Paint (latex manufactured before 1990 and some oil-based paints)
>Antibacterial products containing thimerosal or merbromin
>Switches (electric space heaters, sump pumps, chest freezers)

How can Mercury pollution be prevented?

It is important to minimize mercury releases from all sources to prevent pollution. Local and state governments are currently working with businesses to develop collection systems for mercury. There are several things you can do to prevent mercury pollution:

>Educate yourself as to which products contain mercury.
>Avoid buying products containing mercury when alternatives are available.
>Perform an inventory of mercury-containing items in your household.
>Recycle products that contain mercury.
>Make an effort to reduce reliance on coal burning for fuel by conserving energy
whenever possible.

TO DISPOSE OF MERCURY IN ALLEN COUNTY CLICK HERE.

FOR TIPS ON HOW TO CLEAN UP A SPILL IN YOUR HOME CLICK HERE.

*Information provided by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management

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