Frequent Questions

What are the main sources of mercury?

The same amount of mercury has existed on the planet since the Earth was formed. Mercury moves through the environment as a result of both natural and human activities. The human activities that are most responsible for causing mercury to enter the environment are burning mercury-containing fuels and materials and industrial processes.
These activities produce emissions to the air that contain mercury. Mercury is transported through the air and deposited to water and land where humans and wild life are exposed. Based on the 1997 Report to Congress on Mercury, the highest emitters of mercury to the air include coal burning electric utilities, municipal waste combustors, commercial and industrial boilers, medical waste incinerators, chlorine manufacturing plants, hazardous waste combustors, and cement manufacturers. Mercury also can contaminate land and water when it is directly released in industrial waste waters, or when waste containing batteries, car switches, fluorescent lamps and other sources of mercury are disposed of. 

The 1997 Report to Congress on Mercury suggests that industrial manufacturers are shifting away from using mercury except where it is considered essential. This trend is believed to be largely the result of Federal bans on mercury additives in paint and pesticides; industry efforts to reduce mercury in batteries; increasing state regulation of mercury emission sources and mercury in products; and state-mandated recycling programs. Federal activities are also underway to investigate pollution prevention measures and control techniques for a number of source categories.

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