Mercury
A Significant Environmental Problem

Mercury is a heavy metal that is used in the manufacture of many consumer goods and is found naturally in small amounts in oceans, rocks, and soils. Large amounts of mercury also become airborne through manmade processes such as burning coal, oil, wood, or natural gas as fuel, incinerating mercury-containing garbage, and through industrial production processes that utilize mercury. Once in the air, mercury can fall to the ground with rain and snow, contaminating soils and water bodies.

Once mercury is released into the environment it can change to methylmercury, a highly toxic compound. Methylmercury is easily taken up in living tissue and bioaccumulates (builds up) over time, causing serious health effects such as neurological and reproductive disorders in humans and wildlife. Since mercury does not break down in the environment, it has become a significant health threat to humans and wildlife.

Mercury levels in Maine fish, loons, and eagles are among the highest in North America. This has led the Maine Bureau of Health to issue a statewide advisory recommending that pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and young children limit their fish consumption based on the type of fish they consume. The advisories have been in place since 1994 and remain in effect today because mercury levels in fish have not decreased. Currently 49 states, including Maine, have fish consumption advisories due to mercury contamination.

Contacts

Mercury waste management - Stacy Ladner (207) 287-7853

Mercury-added products recycling - Carole Cifrino (207) 485-8160

Mercury in Maine waters, sediments, fish and wildlife tissue, fish consumption advisory - Barry Mower (207) 215-0291

Mercury in wastewater, mercury separators - Sterling Pierce (207) 287-4868