Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in air, water and soil. It exists in several forms – elemental (also known as metallic mercury), inorganic and organic. Mercury is a liquid metal that easily evaporates, giving off invisible, odorless and toxic vapors. Mercury cannot be created or destroyed.
Mercury is released into the environment from many sources. Mercury becomes airborne when rocks erode, volcanoes erupt and soil decomposes. It then circulates in the atmosphere and is redistributed throughout the environment.
Human activities such as burning coal, oil and natural gas as well as burning household trash and mining, add mercury to the environment. Once in the air, mercury falls to the ground with rain and snow, landing on soil or water bodies. Learn more by visiting our Mercury in the Environment Web page.
Mercury is toxic. Exposure to mercury – even small amounts– may cause serious health problems. People can be exposed to mercury through skin contact, by eating contaminated fish or by breathing mercury vapors. Learn more by visiting our Health Risks of Mercury Web page.
While some manufacturers have reduced or eliminated the use of mercury in their products, there are still many products that we use every day in our homes that contain mercury. Some products are made with mercury added to perform a specific function. These products are called "mercury-added products." Other products may have small amounts of mercury in them because a chemical used in the manufacturing process is contaminated with mercury. These products are called "mercury-containing products." Mercury-added products usually have much greater amounts of mercury in them than mercury-containing products. Learn more by visiting our Mercury in the Home Web page.