Mercury Pollution Prevention
Mercury is toxic to humans. The most common route of mercury exposure in humans is eating fish contaminated by methylmercury, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. People can be exposed to mercury through its historical use in equipment and other products. Preventing exposure to mercury requires the shared efforts of government, businesses, and individuals.
What DEQ is Doing to Prevent Mercury Pollution
- Hazardous Waste Regulation: Every business in Idaho is required to track the volume of wastes generated, determine whether or not each is hazardous, and ensure that all wastes are properly disposed of according to federal, state, and local requirements. As the state agency delegated responsibility for administering the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in Idaho, DEQ works closely with businesses to ensure that hazardous wastes, including mercury, are transported, stored, and disposed of safely.
- Best Management Practices for Mercury-Containing Equipment at Public Drinking Water Systems: As the state agency delegated responsibility for administering the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in Idaho, DEQ works closely with local public health districts and public drinking water systems to ensure that the water we drink is free of contaminants including mercury. In 2003–2004, DEQ conducted an evaluation of equipment used by public drinking water systems in Idaho to identify mercury-containing equipment, including electric switches, sensors, gauges, and meters, with a potential to contaminate drinking water. A technical guide was completed and is available to provide system operators with best management practices to prevent mercury-containing equipment from contaminating drinking water.
- National Vehicle Mercury Switch Replacement Program: DEQ participates in the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Replacement Program. Idaho auto recyclers and salvage yards have been invited to voluntarily participate in this program to remove mercury switches from vehicles before the vehicles are crushed and recycled. The End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corporation implements this program. For information or to participate in this program, contact Matt Alvarado at (208) 373-0554 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- School Labs Chemical Management and Cleanup Project: In a study conducted by DEQ in 2003–2004, it was revealed that a number of schools in Idaho have amassed large stockpiles of hazardous products on school grounds and lack knowledge of secure management and safe disposal procedures for hazardous chemicals and waste. Mercury was among the hazardous materials discovered at some school labs. DEQ's Chemical Roundup Program was developed to assist schools in understanding and implementing best practices for managing and disposing of their hazardous chemicals and wastes, including mercury.
- Public Education and Outreach: DEQ is working to increase public awareness of risks associated with mercury exposure and ways to reduce releases of mercury into the environment.
What You Can Do to Prevent Mercury Pollution
Here are some things you can do to help reduce the threat mercury poses to our environment and health:
- Choose products that do not contain mercury. Look for digital thermometers and electronic thermostats.
- Ask your dentist to use mercury-free composites for any dental work and inquire if your insurance company will pay for the mercury-free materials (if not, speak with your employer or insurance company).
- Ask your local pharmacy or hardware store to consider phasing-out the sale of mercury-containing products.
Discard products safely.
- Separate mercury-containing products, such as electronic equipment with monitors (including televisions), fluorescent lighting, thermometers, thermostats, old paint (pre-1991), and batteries (pre-1995) from regular garbage.
- Do not remove mercury switches from products, such as thermostats; it is safer to keep or recycle the product when it is intact.
- Take any mercury-containing products that you have collected to your local hazardous waste collection facility. Be careful that mercury thermometers are well protected from breakage. Call your local municipality for information on where to bring mercury-containing waste or link to DEQ's online Recycling Directory to find a collection site near you.
- Mercury thermostats can be recycled for free at locations throughout Idaho. Search by zip code on the Thermostat Recycling Corporation's website for the recycling site nearest you.
- Turn the heat back and use air conditioning only when necessary. An electronic programmable thermostat can help do this for you. Burning less coal and oil (that naturally contain mercury) for electricity will emit less mercury into the environment.
- Purchase only energy-efficient products, such as compact fluorescent lights (instead of incandescent bulbs). Although fluorescents contain a small amount of mercury, they will help reduce energy use and related pollution. Ensure that spent fluorescent bulbs are recycled through a household hazardous waste facility.
- Ensure your home is properly sealed and well insulated.
Avoid exposure to mercury at home, school, and work.
- Never play or let your children play with liquid mercury.
- Never use an ordinary vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury. The vacuum cleaner will release mercury vapor into the air and increase exposure. The vacuum cleaner will also be contaminated and have to be thrown away.
- Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.
- Never pour mercury down a drain. It may cause plumbing problems and cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
- Never wash mercury-contaminated items in a washing machine. Mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
- Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around.