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.
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.
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.
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.
In case of a murcery spill - Let's look at some things you should NOT do:
For more information, visit the EPA Mercury site
Call (402) 441-8040 for information about alternatives to mercury-containing items. Related lincs:
Children's Environmental Health