Wednesday, August 05, 2015
Clean Rivers Team Pollution Prevention


 Mercury Information


 What is it?

Where is it found?

Why is it a concern?

Mercury and our streams

Mercury and our air

What can I do to prevent Mercury pollution

Proper disposal

What to do in the event of a Mercury spill?



  What is Mercury?

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal and is a chemical element. It cannot be artificially produced and it does not break down into other substances. Although mercury is a metal, it is a liquid at room temperature. Because of its chemical properties, it conducts electricity and is especially useful in a variety of electronic devices and in industrial applications. Mercury is also highly toxic to humans and wildlife. As a pollutant, it stays in the environment for a very long time. About two-thirds of the mercury found in the environment today is there because of human activity. Mercury is released as pollution when coal is burned in electric generating plants. It also comes form industrial processes and from improper disposal of household products that contain mercury.



 Where is Mercury found?

  • Thermometers with silver colored liquid inside
  • Thermostats - non-electric
  • Clothes irons with an automatic shut-off function
  • Fluorescent light bulbs and mercury vapor lamps
  • Some latex paint manufactured before 1990 - mercury was used to inhibit the growth of mold
  • Batteries (Mercuric oxide and some alkaline batteries)
  • Gauges such as barometers and older blood pressure meters
  • Electrical switches on appliances such as space heaters, freezers, and sump pumps
  • Laboratory chemicals
  • Antibacterial products containing thimerosal or merbromin
  • Scientific apparatus



     Why is Mercury a concern?
  • Mercury is one of the primary pollutants of concern in Indiana.
  • Mercury is highly toxic to humans and can damage the liver, kidneys and brain. If ingested, mercury can affect the central nervous system.
  • Unborn babies and children are the most sensitive to mercury toxicity. fish
  • Mercury does not break down to less toxic forms in the environment.
  • Mercury accumulates in the bodies of humans, fish and other animals.            
  • Because mercury is a liquid and because it easily evaporates into the air, it can enter our environment very easily. It is believed that much of the mercury in rivers and streams is actually deposited there from the air.
  • Once mercury is in the environment, it can be very difficult to clean up. It spreads easily and stays around for a long time.
  • A very small amount of mercury can cause a big problem. Just 3 grams of mercury can contaminate a 60 acre lake. A typical mercury thermometer alone contains ½ to 2 grams of mercury. Three grams equals about 1/25 of a teaspoon.

    Mountains and stream


     Mercury and our streams

    Significant quantities of mercury have been found in many Indiana streams.

    • Impaired Indiana Waterbodies (303d list)learn which Indiana water bodies are not expected to meet applicable federal water quality standards. Mercury is one of the pollutants of concern that water quality testing screens for. Indiana water bodies with mercury levels above the federal standards are identified on this list.

    Indiana has issued consumption advisories for fish from many streams because of mercury contamination.

    • Indiana Fish Consumption Advisory - this listing places specific fish species, located in specific water bodies, into 5 different categories based on the amount of contaminant they contain.
    • Fish Comsumption Risk Assessment Fact Sheet - this fact sheet explains the recommended fish consumption limits for fish in each of the 5 categories used in the Indianan Fish Consumption Advisory.


     Mercury and our air

    Most mercury that is released into the air from coal-fired power plants, incinerators and industrial boilers comes back to earth’s surface with rainfall. According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), mercury has been detected at precipitation monitoring stations throughout North America.

    IDEM and the U.S. Geological Survey operate a precipitation monitoring network in Indiana. IDEM publishes the currently available data summaries for the Indiana Monitoring Network.


     What can I do to prevent Mercury pollution?

  • Learn about common products that contain mercury
  • Make a list of the products in your home that contain mercury using the Household Mercury Source Identification checklist
  • Avoid buying products that contain mercury except for fluorescent light bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs use less electricity than incandescent bulbs.
  • Keep mercury containing items out of the trash. Use appropriate disposal methods or recycle mercury containing products.

Trash can


      For information about disposal in Allen County, Indiana, contact Allen County Solid Waste Management District at (260) 449-7265 or go to


       What to do in the event of a Mercury spill?  

      Because mercury is a liquid at room temperature, it forms beads that can accumulate in the tiniest places. These mercury droplets can give off odorless mercury vapor. Breathing this vapor can be very dangerous depending how much mercury is in the air and how long you breathe it. Small children and pregnant women are at the highest risk for health impacts from mercury, but everyone can be affected.

      Information provided by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management:

      Most small mercury spills – such as a spill from a thermometer used to take a person’s temperature -- can be cleaned up by following these instructions:





  • Make an effort to reduce reliance on coal burning by conserving electricity whenever possible.


     Proper disposal
  • Never pour mercury down the drain.
  • Never break open items that may contain mercury.
  • Never burn mercury.
  • Never put mercury or items containing mercury in the trash.


  • Keep people away from the spill to avoid contact with mercury and to keep from spreading it.
  • Keep the room where the spill has occurred at below 70-degrees to minimize evaporation. Close all heating and air-conditioning vents in the room until the clean up is finished.
  • If the weather allows, open exterior doors and windows. Keep air flowing through the room to the outside but close doors to other parts of the building to avoid spreading the contamination.
  • If you can’t find the mercury, ventilate the room to the out of doors for at least 24 hours.
  • Contain the spill. Build a berm around the mercury with rags or other disposable material to keep it from spreading.
  • If the spill was on a hard surface, work from the outside of the spill toward the center. Use a card, stiff paper or a plastic squeegee to push the mercury together to form larger and larger droplets.
  • Push the droplets into a plastic dustpan or pick them up with an eye dropper or turkey baster. You may also be able to pick up small droplets with tape, but be careful. The drops won’t always stick.
  • Collect all of the mercury into a sealable plastic bag or a plastic container with a lid that will seal tightly.
  • The mercury and anything that has come into contact with it should be taken to a hazardous waste recycling facility for appropriate disposal.

    Useful items for cleaning up mercury:

    o Rubber squeegee
    o Plastic dust pan
    o Plastic trash bag
    o Zip-shut plastic bags
    o Plastic container with a screw on or other leak-proof lid
    o Eye dropper or other suction device such as a turkey baster
    o Index cards or still paper
    o Tape – electrical or duct tape works best

    • DO NOT use an ordinary vacuum cleaner or a shop vac to clean up mercury. Vacuuming mercury will blow vapor into the air and increases the chances that someone will breathe it in. It will also contaminate the vacuum cleaner.
    • DO NOT use a broom or a paint brush to clean up mercury. These devices will just break it into smaller and smaller droplets.
    • If someone’s shoes or clothing has come into contact with mercury, do not let them walk around in your house. They can easily spread the contamination.

    More information about cleaning up small spills can be found at these locations:

          • Mercury Spill Information and Clean Up Guidance – Explains why mercury spills are dangerous, what you should do if a mercury spill occurs and lists some common items that can release elemental mercury if mishandled.
          • Indiana Solid Waste Management Districts – Solid waste districts provide services for solid waste planning, household hazardous waste education and disposal, recycling, market development, education programs and technical assistance.

      For larger spills or when in doubt about what to do call:

      Fort Wayne Water Pollution Control Plant at (260) 427-1243

      Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) Spill Line toll-free at (888) 233-7745. IDEM personnel can determine if IDEM and or US Environmental Protection Agency staff should be called in to perform a clean up operation.

      For further information about human exposure to mercury, please call the Poison Center at (800) 222-1222.