Mercury pollution is becoming an increasingly more serious health and environmental concern.
A low level of mercury is present in the environment naturally. It can be leached from rock and can be present in lakes and rivers. Levels of mercury pollution have dramatically increased in the environment because of human activities and industrial pollution. Some of the main culprits for distribution of mercury into the environment are emissions into the air from coal burning plants, industrial processes that release mercury into lakes and rivers and improper disposal of electrical components that contain mercury which can release it into ground water.
Mercury is found in many more products than most of us realize. Most of us are aware that many thermometers contain mercury. Other commonly used items that contain mercury are barometers, button batteries, such as those found in watches and hearing aids, fluorescent lighting including the newer compact fluorescent bulbs. Other items that may contain it are hydrometers, hygrometers, dental fillings, and many medical devices, switches and gages etc.
For the most part, when mercury is used in these ways there is no danger to the user. Problems begin to occur when these items break or are disposed of improperly, such as in land fill sites, causing mercury pollution in the environment.
Hazards of Mercury
Mercury is an unique metal that is a liquid at room temperature. This is why it so useful in so many devices. It is also partly the reason that it is so hazardous. Being a liquid, it can easily flow into ground water or lakes and rivers. It can become vapour and is airborne. In this state we can inhale it as we breathe, which can cause great harm. It can rise into the atmosphere and fall as rain. By this means distribution of mercury into the environment is spread far and wide.
Through chemical alteration it can become methyl mercury which can even be absorbed through the skin. We can be exposed to mercury when we eat food that has been contaminated by mercury. Mercury in fish and animals that we eat pass their contamination to us. The levels of mercury build up in our bodies and can affect our kidneys and brains. Children in the womb can have it passed to them through the umbilical cord. Little children can get it from mother’s milk. The very young are most vulnerable as it can affect their development.
What can we do about mercury pollution?
- Choose to buy devices such as thermometers, barometers and gages that don’t contain mercury.
- Use LED lights that do not contain any mercury and are extremely energy efficient.
- Request the dentist not use mercury fillings for our teeth.
- Avoid batteries that contain mercury.
- Put pressure on manufacturers to stop polluting.
- Reduce the amount of electricity we use, which will reduce the need for coal burning electrical generation plants.
- We can be careful to recycle whenever possible.
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