Mercury Facts

Mercury is a persistent and toxic heavy metal that poses significant threats to the environment and public health. Mercury entering our solid waste stream can be a major source of contamination released in the environment. Mercury in many forms can be recycled following removal from the waste stream, which can significantly reduce the amount of mercury released into the environment.

Humans are exposed to mercury through their diet, absorption, or through the inhalation of toxic elemental mercury fumes. Brief exposure may cause: coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea and bronchitis. Long-term exposure may cause: loss of muscle control, memory loss, central nervous system damage and kidney disease.

  • A fever thermometer contains an average of 1 gram of mercury. Annual deposition of 1 gram of mercury into a 20-acre lake can contaminate fish to the point where they are unsafe to eat.
  • Mercury thermometers are one of the largest household sources of mercury emissions in the U.S.
  • In 1999, Maryland’s mercury air emissions were about 2 tons
  • Municipal solid waste incineration accounts for 31% of the sources of mercury air emissions in Maryland.
  • Because of the harmful effects of mercury to the environment and public health, Maryland passed legislation (House Bill 75) in 2001 to address mercury pollution in the environment. This law prohibits the sale or provision of mercury fever thermometers. The law also prohibits the use of mercury in schools, and requires the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to provide outreach assistance to schools. MDE is also required to implement an outreach program related to hazards of mercury and voluntary efforts that individuals, institutions, and businesses can undertake to help further reduce mercury in the environment.

Click here for mercury sources found in the home and the environment
Click here for information regarding mercury spills