Mercury is a heavy metal that is found naturally in the earth. It exists in several forms: elemental or metallic mercury, inorganic mercury compounds, and organic mercury compounds. If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas.
How am I exposed?
- The most common way we are exposed to mercury is by eating fish or shellfish that are contaminated with mercury.
- Mercury is also in our air from the combustion of diesel, jet fuel, coal-burning power plants, trash incinerators and heating oil. It deposits on land and water, then concentrates in the food chain.
- Mercury can be found in many consumer products, including: fluorescent light bulbs, electrical fixtures, auto switches, thermostats, medical equipment, and dental amalgam fillings, and thermometers.
Why should I be concerned?
Lead and mercury exact their most devastating toll on the developing brain. Children with above-average mercury exposures have learning difficulties. Other health effects include blindness and deafness, brain damage, digestive problems, kidney damage, and lack of coordination.
What can government and business do?
- Businesses can phase out the use of mercury in products such as thermometers and thermostats. They should also plan to reduce mercury emissions by limiting major sources such as coal burning.
- Federal and state governments should pass legislation that will require businesses to phase out mercury from their products. They should also require that coal burning be replaced with cleaner sources of fuel for energy production.
How can I reduce my exposure?
- Avoid fish high in mercury, such as king mackerel, tilefish, swordfish, orange roughy, and marlin. Limit consumption of tuna, especially steaks and canned ‘white’ albacore. Lower-mercury choices include wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, Atlantic herring, Dungeness crab, Pacific cod, Alaskan black cod, farmed striped bass, farmed catfish, clams, mussels, and Pacific oysters. For more information, visit EWG’s Consumer Guide to Seafood.
- Choose products without mercury, such as digital thermostats and thermometers.
- Be careful not to break fluorescent light bulbs, mercury thermometers, or other household items containing liquid mercury.
Washington Toxics Coalition provided content for this page.