Contact: Dave Verhasselt, 651-757-2278
Saint Paul, Minn. — Got mercury?
If so, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) warns that it’s important to manage it properly to protect yourself and the environment, and to avoid significant health and legal problems.
In recent weeks since a statewide news story about a Floodwood, Minn., man trying to sell 64 pounds of mercury on Craigslist, the MPCA and county collection centers have fielded dozens of tip calls from people with mercury to turn in. One Minnesota county hazardous waste facility took in 20 pounds of mercury as a result of the news story.
Consistent with current practices and despite the one-time mercury purchase by the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, none of the people who subsequently surrendered their mercury received any payment for the hazardous waste. “The news coverage certainly got people asking questions,” said Jeff Connell of the MPCA. “This has been a great opportunity to talk to average citizens about this dangerous element, because it is literally found hidden away in jam jars, on garage shelves or hiding in various industrial locations.”
The MPCA says that individuals who wish to dispose of mercury should do so at their county’s hazardous waste collection site. To look up contact information for your county’s hazardous waste program, visit the MPCA's household hazardous waste collection center webpage.
Though it was very unusual for the sanitary district to purchase the 64 pounds of mercury, one of the largest amounts recovered from an individual, government officials determined buying it was the most efficient and effective option for avoiding potential consequences related to human and environmental health. The amount paid was a small fraction of the cost of a mercury spill clean-up or what regulated industries spend to control mercury emissions.
"This is a great example of how one concerned citizen working hand-in-hand with local and state government can help protect our environment," Connell said. "Anyone with questions about mercury, any unknown chemical, or something that could be hazardous should contact their county environmental department or the MPCA. We all work hard to make sure toxic materials are handled correctly. In this case, the system worked beautifully."
Mercury can damage human health because it is toxic to the nervous system — the brain and spinal cord — and particularly the developing nervous system of a fetus or young child. Minnesotans, passionate about fishing the state’s lakes and streams, are especially aware of the hazards of eating fish from waterways contaminated by mercury. As of 2004, two-thirds of the state’s impaired waters received that designation because they contained fish with high levels of mercury.
Though it is legal to own, most people who find or inherit mercury aren’t aware of state and federal rules governing its sale and purchase. Minnesota rules require the seller to provide a material safety data sheet, or MSDS, for proper transport and require the buyer to complete and sign an affidavit stating how they intend to use the mercury.
Past mismanagement of mercury has led to very expensive cleanups and penalties. For example, in 2009, a Roseville-based property development company paid a $410,000 civil penalty for cleanup expenses following a mercury spill. The spill occurred after juveniles stole mercury from a garage at a former glass factory and then spilled it at the nearby Rosemount Woods manufactured home park.
Learn more about mercury issues, visit the MPCA's Health and Environmental Effects of Mercury webpage.
For fish consumption guidelines, visit the Minnesota Department of Health's Safe Eating Guidelines webpage.