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Mercury is a toxic metal that is used in a variety of products and devices found in buildings. Household appliances, lights and devices such as thermostats are the most prevalent sources of mercury in residential buildings. When broken during handling, landfilling or incineration, products release mercury to the environment primarily through the atmosphere, as a gas or particulate matter. Mercury can then cycle through the land, air and water carried by the effects of erosion, rainfall and leaching creating a persistent, non- biodegradable toxin. (For a detailed discussion of these complex processes please visit Mercury in the Environment.) Mercury accumulates over time, typically in the sediments of water bodies. It then moves into the food chain of organisms, increasing in concentration as many smaller organisms are eaten by larger organisms. It may impair wildlife through chronic conditions including reproductive and behavioral abnormalities, or death.

Mercury is also acutely toxic to humans. Exposure may occur by inhalation of mercury gas, bodily contact with elemental mercury, or by ingesting it through foods, such as fish. Contractors, their employees and building occupants are at risk when mercury containing products or devices are broken. There are a range of chronic health effects due to mercury exposure from flushing of palms and soles to skeletal muscle degeneration, fluid in the lungs, and brain damage. (See more about Human Health Effects.)

There are also a number of ways that contractors can reduce the risk of mercury exposure. The most important starting point is to be aware of the potential for mercury in products and buildings, and to make those that work for you aware as well. Know what products may contain mercury, avoid specifying them, have a management plan in place for mercury containing products that must be handled, and have an emergency response plan. The resources listed below will provide guidance and assistance in these areas.

Mercury Resources:

Mercury In Buildings - This site was developed for contractors, owners and managers, architects, state and local government to provide information that will help to reduce mercury in buildings and to safely manage existing mercury in buildings. It includes basic information regarding the hazards of mercury, guidance for identifying mercury containing devices and developing management and emergency procedures, regulatory information, identification of specific mercury hazards by type of building and links to further assistance. U.S. EPA Region 5 / Purdue University Research Foundation, 2002.

Mercury In Products - A discussion of mercury in products such as wiring devices and switches, including thermostats, electric lighting, measuring devices and control instruments and more. Also provides a brief overview of environmental impacts caused by landfilling and incineration. Pertinent on-line resources are available through the "Only Mercury In Products Links" button. Other navigational links will lead to a wealth of mercury information maintained in this topic hub. Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA)

Understanding Mercury in Building and Component Design, Specification, Remodeling and Demolition - Provides an overview for contractors on specifying products, identifying and managing mercury containing products in buildings. Also provides a list of products that may contain mercury. Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, 2000.

Mercury Regulations and Policies - An overview of federal and state regulations and policies regarding mercury. Pertinent on-line resources are available through the "Only Regulations and Policies Links" button. Other navigational links will lead to a wealth of mercury information maintained in this topic hub. Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA)

National Mercury Reductions Program Database - Provides direct links to over 100 federal, state and local assistance programs for mercury reduction. Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA)

Household Appliance Mercury Switch Removal Manual - This manual addresses the removal of mercury switches and thermocouples from appliances, or "white goods" prior to the processing for scrap metal. It covers a background of mercury and its purpose in particular appliances, how to find it and safely remove it, store it and properly dispose or recycle it. It also covers spill clean-up procedures and offers a list of waste transporters, recyclers and clean-up firms in and around Vermont. Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Vermont Mercury Education and Reduction Campaign, and Chittenden Solid Waste District.

Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance,Understanding Mercury in Building and Component Design, Specification, Remodeling and Demolition,
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 / Purdue University Research Foundation, Mercury In Buildings,
Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA), Mercury Topic Hub, .

(Fact Sheet 9 of 10)

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