Getting rid of mercury at home

Mercury is a naturally occurring toxic trace element found in air, water, soil and rocks. Mercury, a silvery colored liquid, is a member of a group of elements called heavy metals.

It is a concern because it is highly toxic.

In the recent past, a home in Iron Mountain was cleaned up after mercury was discovered in 2008; and a potential mercury exposure occurred at Kingsford Middle School in 2006 in a mercury spill in a classroom.

Mercury is used in thousands of household and commercial products and industrial processes.

Mercury can be converted in the environment by microorganisms into the organic form, methylmercury, which is especially toxic.

Most of the mercury in the lakes was deposited through the atmosphere by rain, snow or dirt particles.

Mercury poisoning can cause central nervous system, kidney and liver damage in humans, and impaired child development.

According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, elemental mercury, also called “quicksilver,” is a heavy, silvery, form of the metal mercury that is liquid at room temperature.

It can slowly change from a liquid into a gas that is invisible to the naked eye.

The gas or “vapors” that are released will start to fill a room if mercury is spilled indoors, according to a Michigan Department of Community Health fact sheet.

Mercury is a very toxic substance that people can be exposed to in several ways.

If it is swallowed, like from a broken thermometer, it mostly passes through the body and very little is absorbed.

If a person touches it, a small amount may pass through the skin, but not usually enough to cause harm.

Mercury is most harmful when a person breathes in the vapors that are released when a container is open or a spill occurs.

Pregnant women, infants and young children are particularly sensitive to the harmful effects of mercury.

If discovered, homeowners need to dispose of it properly.

To help, EQ-A US Ecology Company has partnered with the State of Michigan to facilitate the collection of mercury through The Great Lakes Mercury Collection Program until September 2014.

It is a free program. Any Michigan resident or business can contact EQ for a free collection bucket/box and instruction kit by calling 877-960-2025, emailing or going to Facebook to request a bucket.

The container is delivered to the residence or business with a return UPS label. Mercury devices such as thermostats, thermometers, gauges, barometers, switches, relays, sensors, dental amalgam and much more can be placed in the bucket or box and returned to EQ for proper disposal using the UPS label.

EQ will ensure proper recycling methods, which will reduce the amount of mercury from entering the earth’s environment.

Communities including downstate Ypsilanti are taking part.

According to Luther Blackburn, Ypsilanti Community Utilities Authority is partnering with EQ as a proactive approach to reducing mercury pollution in their community.

IOn Ypsilanti, YCUA will accept unbroken mercury containing products through August 31, 2014.

EQ is a fully-integrated environmental services company based in southeast Michigan.

EQ owns ISO and OHSAS certified hazardous waste treatment, disposal and recycling facilities and manages an extensive line of remediation, industrial cleaning, emergency response and total waste management services throughout the United States.

There are some consumer products known to contain mercury, Michigan Department of Community Health officials say.

These items include thermometers, thermostats (non-electric models), button batteries, old latex paints, some shoes that light up, some light and appliance switches, contact lens solution containing Thimerosal, nasal spray with Thimerosal/phenylmercuric acetate, flame sensors used in residential and commercial gas ranges, and fluorescent and high intensity discharge (HID) lamps.

It should be noted that mercury has been banned from many of these products since the early to mid 1990s.

There also are alternative products to replace these items.

For more information regarding mercury, call the Toxics and Health Hotline at the Michigan Department of Community Health at 1-800-648-6942.