What is mercury?
Mercury is a persistent, toxic heavy metal that can bioaccumulate in humans and wildlife. What does this mean? It means that when mercury is released into the air, water, or land, it remains for a long period of time and builds up in tissues and organs that negatively affect human health.
Where does it come from?
While some sources of mercury are naturally occurring (rocks, earth's crust), other sources come from human activity. Mercury can be released into the environment through industrial pollution, coal fired plants, and improperly disposed of mercury-containing products, such as thermometers, thermostats, compact flourescent light (CFL) bulbs, and flourescent light tubes.
Mercury can collect in lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans and turn into methylmercury in the water. It is methylmercury that is found in fish. It tends to accumulate in the tissue of fish as they feed on other aquatic organisms. As larger fish eat smaller ones, concentrations of the metal increase in the bigger fish. This process is known as bioaccumulation.
Who is most at risk when exposed to mercury?
Pregnant women and young children (under the age of 6) are most at risk. Children are most vulnerable to mercury poisoning because their developing brains and nervous systems are sensitive to low-doses of methylmercury. Infants are exposed to methylmercury from their mothers, both in the womb and through breastfeeding. Pregnant women and children should eat fish with lower levels of methylmercury.
- Properly Dispose of Mercury-containing products.
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 a mobile hazardous waste collection site or the permanent collection facilty at the Ada County landfill. Be careful that mercury thermometers, CFLs, thermostats and other mercury-containing products are well protected from breakage.