Mercury and the Environment
Mercury and the Environment
What exactly is mercury and why does it pose a risk to human and ecosystem health? How can we be sure that we do not contribute unknowingly to this pollution problem?
Mercury has been used for centuries in household, commercial, medical and industrial applications due to its useful properties. While there are fewer products currently manufactured with mercury, a number of mercury-containing items may already exist in people’s homes. Mercury-containing products, such as compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and thermostats, are safe to use so long as they are responsibly recycled at the end of their life.
Mercury is a heavy metal that can have negative impacts on the health of humans and animals. One gram of mercury can contaminate an 8 hectare lake. Some mercury does find its way into the environment naturally, released from rocks and volcanic eruptions. However, it is estimated that over half the mercury in the world today has been released by human activities such as burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, mining and the improper disposal of items containing mercury.
Household Items That May Contain Mercury
To responsibly dispose of items in your home that contain mercury, take them to a mercury recovery drop off location, unless a program exists in your area to manage that particular product. Many Canadian municipalities have household hazardous waste depots that accept mercury-containing products and a few mercury collection programs exist throughout the country, described below.
Older set-back thermostats use mercury switches to control temperature. Consider replacing your old thermostat with an electronic programmable model from The Home Depot, which will allow you to regulate your home’s temperature when you are asleep or away, which can help save money on heating and cooling costs.
In Ontario and British Columbia, there is a program called Switch the ‘Stat that retires old thermostats. Not only will you safely dispose of the mercury switch, but you can decrease the amount of mercury released into the environment from fossil fuels by reducing the amount of energy used to heat and cool your home.
In the last decade, manufacturers have reduced the amount of mercury used in fluorescent lights by over 75%, but they still contain a trace amount (5 mg – less than one fifth the amount found in a typical watch battery). Because fluorescent lights are significantly more energy-efficient than incandescents, overall, their use can reduce the amount of mercury released into the environment in regions that rely heavily on coal fired power plants for electricity, such as Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
If a fluorescent light breaks in your home, be sure to clean it up properly to minimize your exposure to mercury. At the end of its life, take your fluorescent bulb back to The Home Depot for responsible recycling.
Disk or “button” style batteries (those found in watches) contain mercury and must be disposed of properly. All batteries are considered household hazardous waste and should not be discarded in your normal garbage. Single-use batteries can be responsibly recycled at The Home Depot locations throughout British Columbia and Ontario. Elsewhere in Canada, take them to a hazardous waste drop off point to ensure they are disposed of appropriately.
Older thermometers and some appliances also contain mercury. Certain types of chest freezers and gas ranges manufactured prior to 2000 include mercury-containing switches and sensors. If you need to dispose of any of these items, take them to the local hazardous waste depot to have them responsibly recycled to ensure that no mercury is unnecessarily released into the environment.
Education and Awareness
The impacts of mercury can be negative, but these risks can be managed. Through education and awareness, we can reduce and limit the human contribution of mercury into the environment and minimize our exposure to it.
Contact your REALTOR at Coldwell Banker Vantage Realty for more tips and information on simple updates you can do to your home.