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  Mercury — What You Need to Know Back Mercury Home Page   

Mercury is a metal, the only one that is liquid at room temperature. It is very dense, and has a high surface tension.

Where is Mercury Found? Mercury is used in many household products because it conducts electricity, expands uniformly with temperature, and easily forms bonds with other metals. Mercury pollution can contaminate our air, water, and soil. Such contamination can be the result of improperly disposed of mercury or mercury-containing devices.

Mercury and mercury-containing devices from the home should be disposed of through your community household hazardous waste program. If your community does not have a household hazardous waste program please contact the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection at 1-800-597-5865 for other disposal options.

Do not dispose of mercury down the drain, as this can contaminate the ground water through your septage field or the wastewater treatment plant. Mercury and mercury-containing devices from the home should be disposed of through your community household hazardous waste program.

Mercury pollution also occurs through airborne sources. The largest source of atmospheric mercury results from the burning of fossil fuels, especially coal. Once mercury is released into the atmosphere as a combustion product through smokestacks and exhaust emissions, it can travel long distances, settle on soil and wash into lakes and rivers.

Knowing what products and items contain mercury and handling them and disposing of them properly will reduce mercury levels in the environment. Common products often have simple and environmentally friendly alternatives which are listed below.

  Mercury Containing Products
  • Certain alkaline batteries prior to 1998 and button batteries
    Measuring Devices
  • Thermometers
  • Thermostats
  • Barometers
  • Manometers
  • Certain switches
    Historical Uses
  • Certain pigments of latex and oil-based paints pre 1991
  • Pesticides / fungicides
  • Felt hat manufacturing
    Dental Amalgam
  • Mercury is used in dental fillings because it is durable, inexpensive and able to bond with some metals.
  • Alternative fillings are made of gold, porcelain, ceramic or plastics.
  • Fluorescent lamps
  • Mercury vaporlamps
  • High-pressure sodium lamps
  • Metal halide lamps & neon lamps
  • Strobe lights.
    Elemental Mercury and Compounds
  • Mercury Oxide
  • Mercury Chloride
  • Mercury Sulfate
  • Mercury Nitrate

Mercury and Health Concerns Mercury is bioaccumulative in organic systems, which means that mercury ingested by an organism will remain in the body. Mercury can effect people’s health through both long-term low-level exposures and through short-term acute exposures, such as direct contact with elemental mercury.

Picture is not to scale, Courtesy Environment Canada

Mercury can be absorbed through the skin and because elemental mercury vaporizes, the vapors present an inhalation hazard. These are reasons why you should ventilate a room to the outside and wear gloves to avoid all direct contact with mercury.

Mercury in lakes and rivers is converted into methyl mercury by certain bacteria. Fish ingest methyl mercury by swimming or feeding in contaminated water. Methyl mercury accumulates in fish tissue and is carried up the food chain to larger fish, animals and humans. Methyl mercury is dangerous because the concentration of methyl mercury increases as it goes up the food chain.

More Information — Health Links & Resouces from EPA  

  How to Handle a Small Mercury Spill
  • DO turn off ventilating or air conditioning system and open windows and doors that vent to the outdoors.

  • DO set aside everything you think might be contaminated with mercury.

  • DO immediately remove children from the area.

  • DO make sure to avoid skin contact by wearing gloves when handling spill.

  • DO clean up the silver mercury beads by using one sheet of paper to carefully roll them onto a second sheet of paper, or use an eye dropper to collect it all.

  • DO place the mercury into a sealable container, such as a plastic bag or any available airtight container.
  • DON'T try to soak it up with a towel or rag to remove.

  • DON'T use household cleaning products to clean the spill, particularly products that contain ammonia or chlorine.

  • DON'T vacuum carpeted floors contaminated with liquid mercury.

  • If unsure of what to do at anytime during the spill call the NDEP Spill Reporting Hotline at 888-331-6637.

  • For all other mercury disposal concerns contact the Recycling Hotline at 1-800-597-5865.

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