It Can't Be Cleaned Up
Mercury contamination of the environment is a result of burning coal,
careless and improper disposal of thermostats and lamps, and historic
use of mercury-bearing compounds.
Mercury is a persistent, bio-accumulative neurotoxin. In high doses,
mercury kills. Even in very small doses, mercury can cause neurological
and developmental damage to fetuses and young children. In most cases,
mercury attacks the brain and the nervous system. Mercury makes you
Mercury is also harmful to ecosystems and wildlife populations.
Microbial metabolism of deposited mercury can create methylmercury,
which has the capacity to collect in organisms (bioaccumulate) and to
concentrate up food chains (biomagnify), especially in the aquatic food
chain. Methylmercury is a well documented neurotoxin, which may in
particular cause adverse effects on the developing brain. It readily
passes both the placental barrier and the blood-brain barrier;
therefore, exposures during pregnancy are of highest concern. It may
also cause adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, thereby leading
to increased mortality. Methylmercury compounds are considered possible
carcinogenic to humans according to the International Agency for
Research on Cancer. Furthermore, inhalation of elemental mercury vapour
includes symptoms such as tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular
changes, and headaches. Kidney and thyroid may be affected.
Where Does Mercury Come From?
Mercury is emitted into the atmosphere from facilities and vehicles
that burn fossil fuels, especially coal. After being emitted from
smokestacks and tailpipes, airborne mercury can travel hundreds or
thousands of miles before falling back to Earth through rain, snow and
dry depositions. It can end up in our rivers and lakes, and can
accumulate in the fish that we consume.
Mercury can also enter the environment from mercury-containing
products that are discarded. Although they travel a different pathway,
the main concern regarding this form of mercury pollution is the same as
with mercury air emissions eventually, the mercury can find its way
into our rivers and lakes, and into the fish we eat. When we discard
mercury-bearing thermostats and lamps in our trash, since 22% of our
trash is incinerated, the mercury enters the air and eventually falls
back to earth.
Controlling Mercury in the Environment
Large mercury-emitting sectors have acted and are succeeding in
achieving substantial reductions. For example, between 1995 and 1999,
the Canadian primary base-metals sector reduced mercury emissions by
40%; municipal garbage incinerators reduced by 91%; hazardous waste
incinerators reduced by 79%. However, during the same period, the
electricity generating sector increased its mercury pollution by 62%,
flying in the face of public health, environmental integrity and
everyone else's good-faith efforts to control this toxin.
Public health and environmental advocates throughout North America
have consistently recommended that electricity generators be required to
reduce mercury emissions by 90 per cent by 2010. This goal is widely
accepted as being achievable through a variety of potential options that
include renewable energy, energy conservation, switching to less
polluting fuels such as natural gas, and retrofit technologies applied
to coal-fired generators.
Its time to realize that any practices that place mercury in the
environment is an antiquated and destructive practice that should be
cast into the past and cease to be part of our present.
Safe Disposal of Thermostats
In 2006, reacting to the health threat, Massachusetts, along with
other states banned the sale of Mercury thermostats, which has resulted
in a sharp decrease in the overall use of mercury nationwide. However,
taking mercury thermostats off the market is only part of the solution.
Tens of millions of mercury thermostats containing several hundred tons
of mercury are still in use in U.S. homes and businesses. Our recovery
rate of old thermostats is poor, despite the jingles being aired on some
radio stations. Education campaigns alone historically do not provide
significant compliance in any field. However, a bounty system that
requires manufacturers to provide an incentive has been proven to
multiply properly retuned thermostats tenfold.
This bill requires manufacturers of thermostats containing mercury
that are sold in the state to pay a minimum of $5 for each thermostat
containing mercury brought to a state-approved collection site. In
addition, it requires manufacturers of thermostats containing mercury
that are sold in Massachusetts to report annually to this committee on
the fees imposed and to the Department of Environmental Protection on
the results of the thermostat collection and recycling efforts. We must
continue to take steps to eliminate mercury contaminants from the waste
What You Can Do
1. Never place a mercury-bearing thermostat, fluorsecent lamp, CFL,
or other mercury-bearing waste in the trash.
2. Women of child-bearing age should consider avoiding
certain types of fish.
3. Tell your legislators to enact strong anti-mercury laws!