Mercury can damage human health because it is toxic to the nervous system—the brain and spinal cord—particularly the developing nervous system of a fetus or young child. Minnesota, with its many lakes is especially aware of this because one of the more serious ways people are exposed to mercury is through eating fish contaminated with mercury that was deposited in our lakes and streams. Learn more about the effects of mercury on our health and the environment.
Mercury can be found in some of the products we use—wiring devices and switches, thermometers, and fluorescent lights. Mercury can escape into the environment when these items are broken or thrown away. For information on what to do if you spill mercury, visit frequently asked questions about mercury. Mercury can also be released into the air from activities such as burning coal in power plants and processing taconite.
Keeping mercury out of Minnesota's environment
Minnesota is working to keep mercury out of products, removing mercury before products are disposed of, and putting limits on the amount of mercury incinerators may release into the air. Through a stakeholder process, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has developed a plan to reduce mercury releases in Minnesota by 2025. This will have implications for many Minnesota businesses, which will need to reduce their mercury emissions. Find out more about the MPCA's efforts: Mercury research and reduction initiative.
For more information, contact Rebecca Place, 651-757-2807.
What can you do?
- Conserve energy, which reduces the need for utilities to burn coal.
- Buy green power.
- Avoid buying products containing mercury. For example, look for non-mercury fever thermometers.
- Do not throw products that contain mercury in the trash. Take them to your county household hazardous waste facility.
- Take your used fluorescent bulbs to a licensed fluorescent lamp recycling facility.
Businesses can help keep mercury out of the environment in many of the same ways. Business operators should also be aware of these laws:
- Hazardous waste regulations
- Toxics in packaging laws.
- Laws on the labeling and sale of mercury and mercury-containing products.
What Minnesota is doing to keep mercury out of the environment
- Minnesota was the first state to prohibit using mercury in dry-cell batteries.
- The mercury from thermostats, thermometers, gauges, medical and scientific equipment, electrical devices, motor vehicles and household appliances must be removed for reuse or recycling before these products can be disposed of or scrapped.
- Fluorescent lamps must be disposed of at special facilities licensed to recycle the mercury.
- Certain toxic substances, including mercury, are prohibited in inks, dyes, pigments, paints or fungicides as well as in any packaging products.
- MPCA permits limit the amount of mercury incinerators may release.
Other states have also adopted many of these laws. The federal government has adopted several laws to prevent mercury releases as well, including banning using mercury as an agricultural fungicide and in latex paints.
For more information
- Keeping your family safe from mercury Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin, a poisonous substance that damages or destroys nerve tissue. Learn how to minimize risks from mercury in your home.
- Cleaning Up Spilled Mercury in Your Home Home mercury spills often come from broken thermometers. Tips for cleaning up spilled mercury as soon as possible to minimize your exposure.
- Collecting and managing household mercury thermometers Guidance for organizing collection events for mercury-containing household thermometers as a way to reduce mercury products in the home.
- Fish consumption advice (Minnesota Department of Health) The Minnesota Department of Health provides advice on how often fish can safely be eaten.
- Minnesota Statutes - Mercury Minnesota state statutes with keyword 'mercury'.
- LakeFinder (Minnesota DNR) LakeFinder's online database covers more than 4,500 lakes and rivers throughout Minnesota, including fish consumption advice.
- Seeking a Better Understanding of Atmospheric Mercury (NOAA) The Air Resources Laboratory measures and models atmospheric mercury to provide essential information to policy-makers and planners. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
- United Nations Mercury Program UNEP has been working to address mercury issues since 2003. The mercury program has two main facets: the Global Mercury Partnership and negotiations to develop a global legally binding instrument on mercury.