All ABOUT MERCURY IN BUILDINGS
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
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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, http://www.in.gov/idem/your_environment/mercury/catalog/hospitals_mercury.pdf.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 / Purdue University Research
Foundation, Mercury In Buildings, http://www.epa.gov/seahome/mercbuild.html.
Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA), Mercury Topic
(Fact Sheet 9 of 10)