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Mercury is a naturally occurring element found in the air, water, and soil. It exists in several forms: elemental or metallic mercury, organic mercury compounds, and inorganic mercury compounds.

What is mercury?

Mercury is a naturally occurring element found in the air, water, and soil. It exists in several forms: elemental or metallic mercury, organic mercury compounds, and inorganic mercury compounds.

  • Elemental mercury is a shiny silver-white liquid at room temperature and is found in older thermometers, switches, batteries, dental fillings, and some light bulbs. If heated, the mercury will evaporate into an invisible, odorless, and toxic vapor.
  • Organic mercury is formed when mercury combines with carbon. Methylmercury, the most common organic form of mercury, accumulates through the food chain and is most commonly associated with mercury levels in fish consumption.
  • Inorganic mercury takes the form of mercury salt, typically a white colored powder. Its use has been mostly discontinued, but it is still used as a preservative in some medications.

How is someone exposed to mercury?

Due to it’s widespread occurrence, most people have some exposure to mercury. However, many studies have shown that most people have a blood mercury level below those associated with possible health effects.

Most exposures are in the organic form of methylmercury from eating fish or shellfish.

Exposures to elemental mercury typically occurs when it is spilled or products containing it break and release mercury into the air or from the release of mercury from dental work or medical treatments.

Can exposure to mercury make me sick?

Yes. High mercury levels can harm the brain, lungs, heart, kidneys, and the immune systems of people of all ages. However, the effects of mercury can be severe, subtle, or not appear at all. This all depends on the form of mercury exposure, how much mercury  you are exposed to, how long you were exposed to it,  the route of exposure (breathing, eating, etc.), and the age and health of the person exposed. Fetuses, infants, and children are the most susceptible to effects from mercury exposure due to their developing bodies. Pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant should avoid eating fish with high amounts of methylmercury.

What should I do if I believe I have had a high exposure to mercury?

People concerned about an exposure to mercury should consult their physician. Blood tests can determine the level of mercury in the body.

Mercury Chart

How can I reduce my exposure to mercury?

You can reduce your exposure to methylmercury by avoiding fish known to have high concentrations of methylmercury. However, fish are recommended as an important part of person’s diet and should not be avoided altogether. The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have provided guidance on how much fish and what types of fish a person should eat. You should also be aware of any local advisories concerning fish you catch in various water bodies. The Consumer Guide to Mercury in Fish can be found in the resources at the end of this document.

You can reduce your risk of exposure to elemental mercury by carefully handling and disposing of products that contain mercury such as old thermometers and fluorescent light bulbs. NEVER vacuum up spilled mercury; this can cause it to vaporize, creating a greater exposure. If a large amount of mercury has been spilled, contact the health department or environmental cleanup company.

Where can I dispose of my products containing mercury?

The health department currently has a program that allows you to bring your old mercury thermometer in and exchange it for a mercury-free thermometer. The health department will safely dispose of the old thermometer.

The Home Depot will take and safely dispose of any expired, unbroken, compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.

The Wasatch Integrated Landfill also has a Household Hazardous Waste Facility that will accept many items free of charge for Davis County citizens.  Contact them regarding any products containing mercury at 801-614-5600. They are located at 1997 E. 3500 N. in Layton.

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