Meet the New Neighbor…Mercury!

“Oh, goody…we’re going to have tons of a highly toxic substance stored down the street!” File that under “Phrases We’ll Never Hear.”  A recent Associated Press article describes the challenge of finding a place to store the U.S.’s “excess mercury deposits.”  The federal government is considering sites in seven states, but there is unsurprisingly strong opposition from local residents in most of the targeted areas.  Mercury is highly toxic to living things: even small amounts of exposure can damage the human brain, kidneys, and other organs.

The effort to find a storage site for an estimated 17,000 tons of mercury stems from a bill introduced by a certain Senator Obama, and signed into law last October by President Bush.  S.906, the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008, mandates that US exports of mercury cease by 2013, and requires the Department of Energy to select and manage a facility for the long-term disposal of mercury.  Also last year, the European Union banned mercury exports as of 2011.  This month, NGOs in Japan have launched a similar effort.

While mercury is gradually being prohibited in electronics (and hopefully soon from dental amalgams) in the U.S. and Europe, mercury was being exported to developing countries with laxer standards for releasing the toxin.  In many cases, the exported mercury is finding its way into rivers and oceans, where fish absorb it, and those fish are being sent right back…to the consumer.

Mercury is often used in the developing world’s  businesses in ways that pollute air and water leading to terrible health consequences.  It’s good that, four years from now, it will no longer be legal for the U.S. to export this particular dangerous neurotoxin to the rest of the world.  It’s one small step on the long road to sustainable, responsible living, and the Care2 community has been vocal on many aspects of mercury pollution.  Let’s keep up the pressure and keep trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle….in that order.  The problem of what to do with the mercury that we have, that needs to be stored safely, haunts us…wherever we live.

A typical mercury storage configuration. Photo courtesy Defense National Stockpile Center


Sandra White
Sandra White7 years ago

I've been at this issue for 45 years, now. Nothing much has changed. I am wondering if Congress and the President will deal with the toxic lead condition since it is in the organic garden at the White House? Hmmmm?

George B.
George Butel7 years ago

I should clarify that I oppose the use of mercury in electronics, batteries, etc., and I don't like the idea of it going into the air from coal burning. I want clean air and clean water. But this forum seemed to be getting sidetracked by the related but separate issue of trace metal contamination of foodstuffs, etc.
We do need to consider this, however: we have to do SOMETHING with the stuff, the raw material. It cannot be destroyed. Like radioactive waste, we have to put it somewhere. Not next to me, of course, but next to you!

George B.
George Butel7 years ago

In my grade school, in the '50's, we played with liquid mercury. It was great fun to watch it roll around our hands, and watch it amalgamate surfaces of the then silver-containing coins. I had a very good dentist back then, and a few of his mercury amalgam fillings are still intact. I still have merthiolate, which contains mercury, and use it on rare occasions: it actually kills germs Now, if I could just keep blood from pouring out all my bodily orifices...just joking. The amount of mercury in stuff like HFCS is measured in parts per billion; the fact that it is "measurable" does not mean that it is going to have any discernible physiological effect. Your body is perfectly capable of handling trace quantities of such toxins. If you think that American products, like HFCS, are bad because of a few PPB of mercury, wait till you see analyses of things like bee pollen and royal jelly that come from mainland China: lead and mercury in them is horrendous. I don't like the idea of mercury amalgam in my mouth, but it does not seem to have affected me. I take modified citrus pectin just to be sure: it eliminates heavy metals. Let's not get all wacky about a few ppb of something that has been present (at trace concentrations) in our environment since the beginning of life: look at the concentrations in ancient salt deposits from sea beds; these are used in trace mineral tablets. You will find a few ppb of arsenic, lead, mercury, etc.--harmless in trace amounts.

Carol H.
Past Member 7 years ago

You know the funny thing is that High Fructose Corn Syrup has very high consentrations of Mercury in it that it could kill you. They use Mercury to create HFCS look at all your soft drinks,Corn Flakes,Yogart tomato soup, and so many other products I can't name that it caused me very serious problems. At one point I thought I would have to call 911 because I was bleeding from places I shouldn't have been bleeding but not just bleeding it was pouring out of me I had no control over it it was very scarey. I was bleeding primariy out of my rectum and it was just horrible.
Please take your children off any products with HFCS TODAY because it is very very dangerous and that is a fact.
There is another thing I want to tell as many people as I can and please pass this on as well there are two chemicals called Triclosan and Triclocarban these can be found in these products soaps, cleaners, cosmetics, clothing, and even children's toys especially in antibacterial soap they are both very dangerous because they will get into our water system.
Just look at your products my husband had a very bad reaction and we had to to to Shaklee Products that are completely natural.

Judy Velsor
Judy Velsor7 years ago


Judy Velsor
Judy Velsor7 years ago


Judy Velsor
Judy Velsor7 years ago

LIKE PCB'S ALL OVER AGAIN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Judy Velsor
Judy Velsor7 years ago

OK lets have the names of the states where they intend to try to put it. Gotta get my ink ready !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Fariba Ghazi
Fariba Ghazi7 years ago

why do we have so much mercury couldn't doctors find any more theeth to fill?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Peter T.
Peter D.7 years ago

About : CFL mercury versus Coal Power mercury

CFL mercury is a much bigger problem.


Coal power mercury was only ever a problem where untreated coal was used, and dominated

Also, emissions can now easily be treated, with new injection and photochemical techniques as well as so-called scrubbers.

Not only that, emissions will drastically fall in the next few years, as EPA themselves maintain:
2005 decision, 90% power station mercury emission reduction by 2018, (phase 1 = 21% reduction by 2010, phase 2 = 69% further reduction by 2018) , confirmed by new administrator Lisa Jackson.

In a nutshell:
1. We know where the ever decreasing local coal power stations chimneys are and we can treat their emissions with ever increasing efficiency at lower costs.
2. Compare that with billions of scattered broken lights on dump sites, when we do not know where the broken lights will be, and so we can¡¯t do anything about them.

(deposit-refund or free collection schemes would be a good idea, but have not prevented most CFLs in Europe being thrown away with other household waste)