What is Mercury?
Mercury is a naturally occurring element that conducts electricity, combines easily with other metals, and expands and contracts evenly with temperature changes. Because of these properties, it is used in many household, medical, and industrial products. Although it is useful, it is also toxic. If mercury containing-products are not handled properly, the mercury may escape into the environment. You can be exposed to mercury by breathing its vapors, ingesting mercury-containing food or water, and it can absorb through the skin. Excessive exposure to mercury can impact the central nervous system, affecting the way we see, hear, and function. Unborn and young children are the most vulnerable to its effects.
South Bend's drinking water meets all of the water quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and does not have any detectable mercury. However, some mercury can be detected in the wastewater. The wastewater treatment plant cannot remove all of the mercury and so small amounts may end up in the river after the wastewater is cleaned and released. These levels are closely monitored by the regional EPA because the river water eventually travels to the Lake Michigan.
What Can You Do to Help Prevent Mercury Pollution?
Buy mercury-free products when there is a cost-effective, reasonable alternative. Never pour mercury down the drain or put it into the trash. For proper disposal of household mercury products in South Bend, click here. To learn more, visit the Environmental Protection Agency's mercury page here.
What Types of Products Contain Mercury?
Mercury can be found in old thermometers, fluorescent and high intensity discharge light bulbs, switches in appliances and automotive applications, medical instruments, dental amalgam, some batteries, and other products.
How Does Mercury Get into the Environment?
Mercury is naturally present in coal, and therefore the burning of coal for power generation can release mercury into the air. The toxic vapors can also be released when mercury-containing products are broken. If liquid mercury escapes down a drain, it can go through the wastewater treatment plant and be released into waterways. Organisms and fish then absorb mercury and it bio-accumulates as it moves up the food chain. Therefore, eating certain varieties of fish can expose humans and larger animals to higher amounts of mercury. Visit Indiana's fish advisory page here.