Online

Services Government Employment Education Business Tourism Need Help
Health

Department Heading City Letter

Head
Mercury

Mercury occurs naturally as a gas, liquid, or solid in rocks, soil, air, and living organisms. Humans have used it in dental fillings, thermometers, thermostats, blood pressure cuffs, lighting, electrical equipment, laboratory chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.

Mercury emits into the air when fuel, such as coal, is burned or when waste containing mercury is incinerated. Eventually the airborne mercury ends up in some lakes and streams.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) is working to prevent mercury pollution by educating industry and the public about mercury alternatives and how to keep mercury out of the landfill through recycling options.

Health Effects

Mercury is a toxin that can impair the way we see, hear, walk, and talk. Fetuses and children are the most sensitive to mercury toxicity. When mercury enters waterways, bacteria and other processes it can convert mercury into methyl mercury, which is the most toxic form of mercury. Methyl mercury in fish tissue increases as it is passed through the food chain. For example, a small fish eats a contaminated worm; then it is eaten by the next fish and the next fish and so on. The mercury content accumlates each step of the process. By the time a very large fish such as a sward fish is consumed by a human, the mercury has increased to harmful amounts.

Mercury exposure can occur through eating contaminated fish. Exposure to high levels of fish contaminated with mercury has been associated with serious mental and physical retardation in infants. Lesser exposure can cause learning deficits and delayed walking and talking.

Nebraska along with 38 other states, releases fish consumption advisories warning the public of the dangers of eating fish contaminated with mercury. The advisory is particulary important for children and women who are nursing, pregnant, or planning to become pregnant because they can pass these contaminants on to the baby during pregnancy or breast feeding. In children it can pass through the still undeveloped blood brain barrier to harm the brain and nervous system. Contact the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Environmental Quality at (402) 471-2186 for a copy of the most recent Fish Consumption Advisory, or the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission.

You SHOULD:

  1. Identify and label mercury-containing items in your home. Ensure children are protected from items containing mercury and that they are recycled, rather than disposed of in a landfill. Call the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD)for information on where to recycle items containing mercury at (402) 441-8040.
  2. Replace mercury thermostats with electronic thermostats. Electronic thermostats are more energy efficient because they can be programmed to lower room temperatures at pre-set times.
  3. Replace mercury thermometers with digital thermometers. Digital are as accurate as mercury thermometers (silver colored liquid). If your mercury thermometer breaks, evacuate and ventilate the room. Call the LLCHD immediately (402) 441-8040 for detailed information.
  4. Dispose of or recycle mercury waste properly. LLCHD has developed a number of recycling and alternative disposal options to keep mercury out of landfills and waterways. For information on mercury-disposal options, contact the LLCHD, Household Hazardous Waste Program at (402) 441-8040. LLCHD provides household hazardous waste collection and recycling programs to keep mercury from accumulating in the waste stream. These programs are free to local residences.
  5. Recycle your flourescent bulbs. Flourescent and other mercury vapor light bulbs are excellent environmental choices because they use up to 50% less electricity than incadescent lights. However, some flourescent bulbs contain mercury, so they must be handled carefully and disposed of properly. If broken, mercury vapor will be released into the air immediately. For more information on mercury disposal options call the LLCHD at (402) 441-8040
You should CONSIDER:
  1. Recycling button/watch batteries. Contact LLCHD at (402) 441-8040, to find out where the closest battery recycling drop-off facility is located.

Cleanup:

Mercury is dangerous to clean up. If a spill occurs, contain the spill by closing off the room, removing everyone, keep children and pets away from the area. Turn off the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system at the thermostat by setting it to "OFF", and contact the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department immediately for assistance and more information.

If you have a mercury spill, following the guidelines on this site will help you reduce the risks of exposure while cleaning the area. It is tempting to try to do something right away. Unfortunately, some of your first instincts could cause more problems.

Immediate Steps:

In case of a spill, you can take certain immediate steps to protect yourself and your family. Remember, the greatest harm from mercury is breathing in the vapors. The next greatest harm comes from eating mercury or putting mercury containing items in your mouth.

  1. Contact the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD), 441-8000, in the case of a mercury spill. Always follow the directions or instructions of these professionals when dealing with a mercury spill.
  2. Ventilate the affected room to the outside by opening windows and closing all doors to the room.
  3. Prevent contaminated air from entering the rest of the house. The room may have a cold air return duct that leads to a central heating or cooling system. (This duct will look like a heat duct, but it will not have a lever or handle and will not close.) If the room has such a cold air duct, turn off the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system at the thermostat by setting it to "OFF".

In case of a murcery spill - Let's look at some things you should NOT do:

  1. DO NOT allow pets, small children, and pregnant women to enter the room or area. They all are at a higher risk of being affected by the spill. Pets that walk through the spill or get mercury on their fur can carry the mercury to other rooms and areas.
  2. DO NOT try to vacuum the spilled mercury. You will only spread the mercury around as air comes out of the machine's exhaust. You will also contaminate the vacuum cleaner. Some mercury will remain in the machine and will be scattered into the air when you turn on the machine.
  3. DO NOT handle the mercury with your bare hands. You will increase the risk of breathing in the fumes or absorbing the mercury through your skin.
  4. DO NOT attempt to clean up a mercury spill with cleaners that have ammonia or chlorine in them such as Windex, Formula 409, or bleach.

For more information, visit the EPA Mercury site

Call (402) 441-8040 for information about alternatives to mercury-containing items. Related lincs:

InterLinc

Home Page

Children's Environmental Health