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Mercury in the Home
         

Mercury in the Home

Mercury exists in several forms. Some forms are more dangerous than others, but all are toxic. Exposure to mercury – even in small amounts – may cause serious health problems.

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. 

The most commonly identified mercury-added products include some types of thermometers, barometers, thermostats, batteries and fluorescent bulbs. Other products that may contain mercury include detergents and cleaners, medical products, cosmetics, old pesticides and old paints. The “Wisconsin Mercury SourceBook” is a compilation of information to help identify and reduce the release of mercury in your community. It is available at www.epa.gov/glnpo/bnsdocs/hgsbook.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also offers extensive information on products that contain mercury. Here are three recommended Web pages to visit:
  • Consumer and Commercial Products (www.epa.gov/hg/consumer.htm) list products that contain mercury, efforts to reduce the use of mercury-containing products, recycling and proper disposal of mercury-containing products and non-mercury alternative products.
  • Table of Products that May Contain Mercury and Recommended Management Options (www.epa.gov/epawaste/hazard/tsd/mercury/con-prod.htm) provides in-depth information on products, recommendations dealing with spills or broken products, proper end-of-life management options and links to additional information and programs.
Use and handle these products carefully and responsibly. Don’t throw these products in the trash or pour down the drain. Always look to find ways to have the products disposed of properly or recycled. Some communities offer ongoing collection programs for hazardous household materials while other local programs may hold single-day collection events. If your community does not offer any type of program or collection, encourage a program or collection to be set up.
 
For more information, contact your local recycling coordinator or solid waste director. Visit www.scdhec.gov/environment/lwm/recycle/counties.htm to identify your local recycling program contact or call the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) Office of Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling at 1-800-768-7348.

Look for mercury-free products and alternatives whenever possible.
 

Products That May Contain Mercury

The following list represents some of the major consumer products that contain mercury:
  • Batteries– Since 1994, federal law has limited the amount of mercury in button cell batteries (used in watches, hearing aids and calculators) and has prohibited intentional addition of mercury to standard household batteries (dry-cell sizes A, AA, C, D, etc.).
  • Detergents and disinfectants – Some bleach, detergents with bleach, stain removers and soaps also contain mercury. To be more aware, read product labels and try to purchase mercury-free alternatives.
  • Fluorescent bulbs – Mercury is used in long fluorescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs, high-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs and other types of energy-efficient lighting. Some fluorescent bulb manufacturers have introduced “green tip” bulbs. These bulbs typically contain less mercury than standard fluorescent bulbs, but still should be recycled or disposed of properly.
  • Jewelry – There are some necklaces imported from Mexico that have a glass pendant that contains mercury. The pendants come in various shapes such as hearts, bottles, balls and chili peppers. Broken necklaces have resulted in mercury spills at schools.
  • Medicine – Mercury in the forms of phenylmercury acetate and ethylmercury has been used in fungicides, antiseptics or disinfectants. It also has been used in a variety of products. Most of these uses have been discontinued, but small amounts of these compounds can still be found as preservatives in some medicines. Some consumers are concerned about the use of thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, in vaccines. Since 2001, with the exception of some flu vaccines, thimerosal is not used as a preservative in routinely recommended childhood vaccines. For more information on thimerosal in vaccines, please visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website. The FDA also provides a list of mercury-containing drugs, antibiotics and vaccines as well as the types and percentages of mercury ingredients in each of these products.
  • Paint – Mercury was used as a preservative, but its use in indoor and exterior paint was discontinued in 1991. Until recently, many water-based paints, including some interior paints, continued to use mercury as a fungicide. Visit www.epa.gov/iaq/homes/hip-painting.html for more information about indoor environmental concerns during remodeling.
  • Thermometers(fever, candy, deep fry, oven, indoor and outdoor) – Mercury is used in glass thermometers because it is sensitive to changes in temperature. Thermometers are one of the largest sources of mercury in municipal solid waste. The few drops of mercury found in a common fever thermometer can contaminate a large number of fish. Today, consumers can purchase accurate alternatives such as digital or alcohol thermometers.
  • Thermostats – Thermostats contain more than five times the amount of mercury found in a typical fever thermometer. If you replace a thermostat, recycle the old one (please see the Thermostat Recycling Web page for more information). Mercury-free electronic or digital thermostats are available as replacements.
Other products that may contain mercury include:
  • athletic shoes, toys and cards that light up
  • pilot lights in gas appliances such as stoves, water heaters, furnaces and dryers
  • older chemistry sets
  • switches found in some fire alarms, septic tanks, car trunks and hoods, pinball machines and automatic shut-off irons

 



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