The purpose of this website is to explain why the State of California is trying to reduce mercury in the environment. You will find some basic information on the element, mercury (Hg). Its uses and disposal, how it affects people and the environment, and how California currently regulates it. In addition, there are links to web pages that provide more details on mercury-containing products and mercury waste.
Facts about Mercury (Hg)
Mercury is a naturally occurring silver-colored liquid metal found in rocks, soil and the ocean. Mercury is released into the environment through natural processes when volcanoes erupt, rocks erode and soil decomposes. It is also released by human activities.
Because it is a liquid metal at room temperature, mercury has been widely used in various industries. In addition to being used in products like thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, electronics, and the chemical industry. Man-made releases of mercury come from coal-fired energy production and cement kilns, mercury chlorine plants, silver, gold and mercury mining, abandoned mines, scrap metal processing and incineration, and land disposal of mercury products or waste.
Mercury's Potential for Harm
Mercury is Toxic to People. Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that affects every aspect of brain and nerve function. It can cause tremors, memory loss, mental impairment and many other complications in the nervous system. Mercury is especially dangerous to the developing fetus as it impairs brain development, resulting in lowered intelligence and other brain deficits. (For further information, go to the US EPA Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Mercury)
Mercury is Toxic to the Environment. Bacteria from river and estuary bottom sediments convert mercury into its highly toxic form through a process called "methylation." This methylated mercury accumulates in aquatic organisms, making the fish from those bodies of water dangerous to eat.
Numerous bodies of water in California are the subject of fish consumption advisories. These range from limiting the intake of some fish to one serving every few weeks, to avoiding the consumption of any fish from specific locations.
For more information on California’s fish consumption advisories, go to the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Web site.
For more information about the health effects of mercury, go to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry mercury page.
Mercury Control Laws in California
The California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) regulates the disposal of waste because mercury is toxic to people and to the environment.
California law restricts the level of mercury in some products (such as general purpose lights and packaging), and bans the sale of other mercury-containing products outright (such as mercury-containing thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, etc.). View a list of banned mercury containing products and learn about the mercury switch and relay phaseout at Products and Devices That Contain Mercury. Follow one of the links below for specific mercury laws or regulations.
Disposal of Mercury Products
For mercury-containing products found in the home, local governments in California operate an extensive system of household hazardous waste collection programs. Many of these programs also accept hazardous waste from small businesses.
Many mercury-containing products, such as fluorescent lights, must be managed as hazardous waste when discarded. They cannot be disposed of in the trash. Many of these items, however, can be managed with reduced hazardous waste handling requirements under the "Universal Waste Rule".