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DEC Takes a Multi-Discipline Approach to Managing Mercury

Mercury from many sources, including from common household thermostats.Many DEC program areas share responsibility for environmental protection on mercury issues -- from regulating air emissions, educating the public on products that contain mercury, remediating and preventing hazardous spills, assisting businesses in finding mercury-free alternatives to needed equipment, to monitoring water and habitat to keep toxic levels safe for fish, wildlife and humans. The DEC has established a Mercury Work Group to help coordinate its response to issues on mercury and the environment. The Work Group's Recommendations to Meet the Mercury Challenge (PDF) (80 KB) provides more information on the Group's vision.

The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Announces the Great Lakes Mercury in Products Phase-Down Strategy

In fulfillment of a Collaboration Strategy recommendation, in April 2006, State, Tribal, and City staff commenced development of a basin-wide Strategy for the phase-down of mercury in products and waste. The final Strategy is now available. A link to this final report can be found on the right hand column of this page in the Important Links section.

About Environmental Mercury

Mercury is a metal that occurs naturally in the environment in several forms. The most common form, metallic or elemental, is a silvery, odorless liquid. That is the form commonly found in household thermometers. Elemental mercury can evaporate at room temperature to form a vapor. Mercury can escape to the environment when items containing mercury are broken or thrown away. Whether the items are dumped in sewers, garbage cans or burned, some of the mercury will eventually enter the atmosphere.

Mercury is a pollutant in the air emissions from activities such as burning coal. A number of other possible sources of mercury exist, including cement plants and gasoline combustion and in many consumer products and devices. Mercury can also combine with other elements to form both inorganic and organic compounds. Mercury and mercury compounds can be found in air, soil and water.

If a mercury spill occurs, call the DEC Spills Hotline at: (800) 457-7362.

Fish Absorb and Accumulate Mercury

Most of the mercury that accumulates in the fleshy part of fish is methylmercury. Fish absorb methylmercury directly from water and from eating smaller organisms that contain methylmercury. Greater amounts of methylmercury are found in older fish which tend to eat other fish and organisms. Methylmercury is found throughout the part of the fish that is eaten; therefore, cleaning and cooking methods which may reduce exposure to other contaminants are NOT effective for reducing exposure to mercury.

Damage to Humans

Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic or organic mercury can damage the nervous system and kidneys. Studies have shown that people who ate fish and grain which contained large amounts of methylmercury had permanent damage to the nervous system and kidneys. Exposure to methylmercury is more of a concern for children and unborn babies because their nervous systems are still developing and the nervous system is a target organ for mercury. Health effects might include brain damage, behavioral and developmental problems.

More about Mercury:

  • Mercury in Fish and Wildlife - The Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources' Bureau of Habitat monitors the presence of mercury in the environment and studies its impact on fish and wildlife resources in New York State.