Mercury is toxic

Mercury is very toxic. In fact, it is a neurotoxin, meaning that it harms the brain and nervous system. It is also linked to kidney and liver damage and possibly cancer. Children are especially at risk because their brains and bodies are still developing. Many health effects of mercury can be permanent.

Reducing exposure to mercury

Washington and other states have taken action to reduce the risk posed by exposure to mercury. Mercury is in some products that people come into contact with daily. In 2003, the Washington State Legislature passed the Mercury Education and Reduction Act (MERA). MERA bans the sale of some mercury-containing products, requires the labeling of mercury-containing light bulbs and lamps, and requires the removal of mercury from elementary and high schools. Repeat violators of MERA may be fined up to $5000 per violation.

Managing waste containing mercury

Businesses can manage mercury-containing equipment and lamps under simplified rules for managing dangerous waste referred to as the universal waste rules. These rules reduce record keeping and other requirements associated with managing these types of dangerous waste.

The Department of Ecology also administers an automotive mercury switch removal program. Many automobiles made before 2003 contain mercury switches or other mercury-containing equipment. If these items are not removed before the vehicle is recycled, the mercury they contain is released to the environment when the vehicle is shredded. This is why Ecology offers auto recyclers a bounty of up to $9 per mercury-containing component they remove and properly recycle.

Dentists must also take care to manage their mercury-containing dental waste. Dental offices in Washington State are required to use and maintain a dental amalgam separator.

Related information

Mercury Releases and Spills
The Environmental Protection Agency explains how to clean up a mercury spill properly and safely.

Ecology's PBT Initiative
Learn more about how Ecology is working to reduce and phase-out the use, release, and exposure to persistent, bioaccumulative toxics from Washington’s environment.

Mercury in Fish
Fish is good for you and part of a healthy diet. Understanding the health benefits of fish along with concerns over contamination such as mercury can be confusing. The Washington Department of Health helps you keep fish in your diet.

Interstate Mercury Education & Reduction Clearinghouse
IMERC offers a large amount of information on reducing the amount of mercury in the environment. Washington is a member of this multi-state initiative. Their Mercury Added Products fact sheets provide information about various products that contain mercury.

Information for Households

How to clean up a broken bulb that contains mercury

Build a bulb carrier

Fluorescent light bulb recycling