Fact Sheet: Mercury


Brief Overview:
Contaminant: Mercury
Category: Inorganic
Source: Crop runoff, batteries
Effect: Kidney and nervous system disorders
Treatment: Granular Activated Carbon; RO

Mercury is a liquid metal found in natural deposits as ores containing other elements. Electrical products such as dry-cell batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, switches, and other control equipment account for 50% of mercury used.

Large amounts of mercury are released naturally from the earths crust. Combustion of fossil fuels, metal smelters, cement manufacture, municipal landfills, sewage, metal refining operations, are most notably, from chloralkali plants, are important sources of mercury release. Nearly 8 million lbs. of mercury were produced in the U.S. in 1986.

From 1987 to 1993, according to EPAs Toxic Chemical Release Inventory, mercury releases to land and water totaled nearly 68,000 lbs. These releases were primarily from chemical and allied industries. The largest releases occurred in Tennessee and Louisiana. The largest direct releases to water occurred in West Virginia and Alabama.

What happens to Mercury when it is released to the environment? Mercury is unique among metals in that it can evaporate when released to water or soil. Also, microbes can convert inorganic forms of mercury to organic forms which can be accumulated by aquatic life.

Short- or Long-term: EPA has found mercury to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time: kidney damage.

Coagulation/Filtration; Granular Activated Carbon; Lime softening; Reverse osmosis.