(803) 781-4243

Access Analytical News

Mercury in the Environment


Access Analytical - Wednesday, April 24, 2019
excerpt from SCDHEC article

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in air, water and soil. Mercury exists in several forms: elemental (metallic); inorganic; and organic. Mercury cannot be created or destroyed. Some forms of mercury are more dangerous than others, but all are toxic. Exposure to mercury - even small amounts - may cause serious health problems.  

Mercury is released into the environment from many sources. Mercury becomes airborne when rocks erode, volcanoes erupt and soil decomposes. It then circulates in the atmosphere and is redistributed throughout the environment. Human activities, such as burning coal, oil and natural gas, burning household trash and mining, add mercury to the environment. Once in the air, mercury falls to the ground with rain and snow, landing on soil or water bodies and causing contamination. Many common products that we use every day contain mercury and may contaminate the environment when they are disposed of in trash, burned or poured down a drain.  Mercury also may enter water bodies through a direct release of industrial waste or municipal sewage. Mercury may enter the air when products containing mercury break and release vapors. 

Coal-burning power plants are the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions to the air in the United States. Nationwide, they account for more than 40 percent of human-caused emissions according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There are 5 coal-burning power plants in South Carolina that emit mercury. Another 219 Title V (major source) facilities also emit mercury.  Mercury also can be released into the environment when older vehicles are crushed, shredded or melted in steel furnaces. The mercury is from hood and trunk light switches. Vehicles manufactured after 2003 do not contain mercury switches. Mercury emissions from steel furnaces, thought to result primarily from these mercury switches, are more than 10 percent of the total mercury emissions in the nation.  

Please contact us if you have questions or concerns regarding Mercury contamination at your location.