Mercury is a metallic element that, in its pure form, is a heavy, silver-colored liquid. Mercury occurs naturally in ores and other geologic formations and is also released into the environment through various human activities. Mercury can be found at low levels throughout the environment and is carried across whole continents by upper atmospheric air currents.
Mercury has significant public health and wildlife impacts, primarily from consumption of mercury-contaminated fish. It can permanently affect fetal and child development and can damage the brain, kidneys and lungs. Whereas mercury released into the environment is primarily inorganic or elemental by nature, when in the environment, it is converted by bacteria to a methylated or organic form, which is the most toxic and bioaccumulative form of mercury. Once formed, methyl mercury can be readily passed through the food chain. Mercury’s designation as a “persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT)” pollutant and its widespread prevalence in the environment have made it a high-priority pollutant at both the state and national level.
Mercury is used in many common household products, including thermometers, fluorescent light tubes, thermostats, batteries, dental fillings and vehicle light switches.
View: How to Properly Dispose of Mercury
How to reduce mercury that gets into the environment
- Mercury-containing thermostats: Replace your mercury-containing thermostat with an energy-efficient digital thermostat.
- Mercury thermometers: Exchange your mercury-containing thermometer for a digital thermometer.
- Mercury-containing vehicle switches: Check to see if your vehicle has mercury-containing convenience light switches. Replace them with non-mercury switches.
- Protect Yourself From Mercury!
A flyer on mercury in thermometers.
- Mercury Reduction Strategy
The 2007 Strategy is intended to describe activities DEQ will implement over the next five years to reduce mercury in Oregon's environment and to reduce human exposure.
- Prohibition Against Mercury Thermostat Installation
Oregon state law (Oregon Revised Statutes 455.355, implemented by Oregon Administrative Rules 918-440-0500-510) makes it illegal for contractors to install thermostats containing mercury in homes or commercial establishments. HVAC contractors are also required by state law to properly manage mercury thermostats so that mercury does not become part of the solid waste stream. Each mercury thermostat contains about four grams of mercury, and because there are so many in use, mercury thermostats are one of the largest sources of disposed mercury.