Department of Environmental Conservation

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Mercury in New York State's Waters

Mercury is a natural element that is used in many human activities. Some uses are considered essential and others are not. The Department is working with other agencies to identify non-essential uses and find alternatives.

Mercury enters our surface and groundwater from:

  • waste or industrial discharges,
  • runoff from land,
  • atmospheric deposition from polluted air,
  • sediment-contamination, and
  • leaks and spills

Microorganisms in wetlands and some other surface waters convert mercury to methyl-mercury, a potent neurotoxin that accumulates in fish tissue. Even low levels of mercury in the water can accumulate to high concentrations in fish. Mercury levels in fish tissue can sometimes reach high enough levels to threaten the health of people who eat the fish they catch in certain waters.

DEC's Division of Water monitors mercury levels in surface waters and sediments across the state and regulates point source discharges of mercury. The state Department of Health issues fish consumption advisories when a waterbody is found to contain fish with high mercury levels.

Additional Guidance may be found in DOW Policy 1.3.10 Mercury - SPDES Permitting, Multiple Discharge Variance, and Water Quality Monitoring (PDF, 927 KB), October 2015 Edition

More about Mercury in New York State's Waters: