Mercury is one of the most widespread, persistent and toxic contaminants in our environment. Its incorporation into many products and its emission from combustion processes has resulted in well documented instances of watercourse poisonings, high level occupational exposures, and worldwide, chronic, low-level environmental exposures. In order to prevent the continued release and build-up of mercury in the environment, many organizations and state and federal agencies are currently working towards eliminating major sources of mercury releases. Mercury is found in fluorescent lamps and may still be present in various batteries and electrical devices such as the tilt switches found in legacy but still common thermostats.
If not properly disposed of, mercury can enter the environment via a number of paths:
- If a mercury-containing item is thrown into the trash and the trash goes to a landfill, the mercury may be released into the atmosphere from landfill vapors or leachate. If the trash is incinerated, mercury vapor will be released into the air.
- If mercury is flushed through a wastewater system, the mercury will probably adhere to the wastewater sludge. It may then be spread on farmland, or may evaporate and be deposited elsewhere.
U.S. EPA Mercury Home Page. Starting point for EPA's mercury resources. Under certain Federal environmental statutes, such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, EPA has the responsibility to develop regulations to control some mercury emissions to air, water, or from wastes and products. This page outlines those regulations.
Schools and Mercury. This site provides information for school administrators, faculty, staff, local health jurisdictions, and parent groups on how to reduce the hazards of mercury on children's health, avoid chemical liabilities, develop planning tools, and establish collection programs for mercury. Mercury is used in many items found in schools, such as thermometers, barometers, switches, thermostats, flowmeters, lamps, and laboratory reagents in chemistry and science labs. Two major causes of mercury spills at schools are improper storage and mishandling of these items.
OSHA's Mercury Home Page Starting point for OSHA mercury standard and many other resources.
Universal Waste State Resource Locator. This tool contains links to state universal waste regulations which cover the disposal of many mercury-containing devices.
NEMA's State Mercury-Containing Product Legislation Tool. National Electric Manufacturer's Association maintains a state-by-state tool that presents labeling, product phase-out, manufacturer take-back, notification, and disposal ban requirements information for mercury-containing products.
Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers. The ALMR represents the majority of commercial processors of mercury-bearing wastes in the U.S. Members recycled about 85% of all the lamps that were recycled last year. Association Members provide a comprehensive service network throughout North America to assist with collection, processing, recycling, and recovery of spent mercury lamps, ballasts batteries, electronic products, and other wastes with hazardous levels of mercury. Member companies operate 60 locations in the U.S.
EPA Strategy to Address Mercury-Containing Products. Building on demonstrated success for more than three decades of reducing mercury use in traditional product and process categories, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) strategy is to further reduce mercury use in products and certain processes in order to prevent future releases to the environment. To better understand continuing uses of mercury in such products and processes, EPA will collect and assess information pertaining to mercury‐containing products and, as appropriate, processes that use mercury as a catalyst. The strategy will also assist the United States in its sustained implementation of its obligations under the Minamata Convention.
Fact Sheet: Industrial Mercury Use . A fact sheet on specific mercury-containing products, including thermometers, pressure gauges, thermostats, and switches, available from Inform.