Mercury is a naturally occurring element that does not break down. It is a metal and conducts electricity. It is a liquid at room temperature, combines easily with other metals, and expands and contracts evenly with temperature changes. Because of these properties, mercury has been used in many household, medical, and industrial products. Hg is the chemical symbol for mercury.
Uses of Mercury
Mercury is used in a variety of manufacturing processes and products such as thermometers and compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. If you improperly dispose of products with mercury in them, they may break and release mercury vapors which are harmful to human and ecological health.
Dangers of Mercury
Although mercury performs many useful functions in our workplaces and homes, it is toxic and can impair the way we see, hear, and function. Mercury gets into the atmosphere, lakes and streams from three major sources: burning of coal for power generation, improper disposal, and natural sources.
Proper and Improper Disposal of Mercury
Recommendation for Proper Disposal
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides instructions on how to handle and dispose of mercury related products in a safe manner. You can also take the mercury contained item (s) to our Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) site for proper disposal.
Pouring the mercury down drains, putting in the trash, or burning it in a barrel or incinerator are all improper disposal methods and can elevate the mercury contamination to harmful levels. When mercury gets in lakes or waterways, it can undergo a natural chemical change which converts it to a more deadly form. This form can contaminate the food chain by building up the tissues of fish and wildlife, and the humans who eat them.