Mercury Awareness

What Is Mercury?

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that does not break down. It is a metal and conducts electricity.

It is a liquid at room temperature, combines easily with other metals, and expands and contracts evenly with temperature changes. Because of these properties, mercury has been used in many household, medical, and industrial products. Hg is the chemical symbol for mercury.


Mercury is used in a variety of manufacturing processes and products such as thermometers and compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. If you improperly dispose of products with mercury in them, they may break and release mercury vapors which are harmful to human and ecological health.

Household Items That May Contain Mercury

  • Anti-bacterial sprays or ointments containing thimerosal
  • Clothes irons with automatic or tilt shut-off
  • Curling irons with automatic shut-off
  • Elemental mercury
  • Latex paint manufactured before 1990
  • Non-electric thermostats.
  • Old mercuric oxide batteries (can be found in some children's books and watches)
  • Thermometers with "silver bulbs"

Dangers of Mercury

Although mercury performs many useful functions in our workplaces and homes, it is toxic and can impair the way we see, hear, and function.

Mercury gets into the atmosphere, lakes and streams from three major sources:
  • Burning of coal for power generation
  • Improper disposal
  • Natural sources

Improper Disposal

Improper disposal of mercury-containing items includes pouring the mercury down the drain, putting it in the trash, or burning it in a barrel or incinerator. These improper methods of disposal can elevate mercury contamination to harmful levels.

When mercury gets in lakes or waterways, it can undergo a natural chemical change which converts it to a more deadly form. This form can contaminate the food chain by building up in the tissues of fish and wildlife, and the humans who eat them.

Proper Disposal

We are recommending that you please follow the instructions shown on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) website. It provides instructions on how to handle and dispose of mercury related products. Specifically, you can take the mercury-containing item to our Hoursehold Hazardous Waste (HHW) site in Mishawaka for proper disposal.