All natural elements of Earth cannot be created or destroyed; they're in a constant cycle. The common form of mercury is a liquid metal that evaporates easily. Mercury can be found in familiar products such as light bulbs and thermometers. It's also a component of many rocks that include coal. Coal-burning power plants exist in abundance, making them the largest human-caused mercury emission source. 40% of domestic mercury emissions result from coal burning.
The EPA has estimated that a quarter of mercury emissions are deposited in the US while the rest joins the global cycle. Other human activities that release mercury into the environment include burning hazardous wastes, producing chlorine, spilling mercury, and improper treatment and disposal of waste containing mercury.
Life Cycle and Exposure:
Mercury is like any other natural element; it has an ongoing life cycle. After being released into the environment it settles eventually in bodies of water or on land. Whatever settles on the ground can be washed off into water. Once the mercury is deposited into water certain microorganisms can transform mercury into a highly toxic form, called methylmercury, which accumulates in fish, shellfish, and then animals that eat fish.
Humans are exposed to methylmercury mainly by eating fish and shellfish. Methylmercury levels vary in different fish and shellfish. They depend on factors that include where they live, how and how long they live, and how high they're in the food chain. EPA and FDA monitor mercury levels in fish and release annual safe-eating guidelines to the people.
Another way of exposure to mercury is breathing mercury vapor. That is less common but occurs when objects containing mercury break and release it into the air. That is a concern in warm and poorly ventilated spaces.
Reducing Mercury Deposits:
The EPA plays a major role in reducing mercury release into the environment. We can contribute in decreasing mercury levels as well; we have to be aware of the risks, sources, and ways of prevention. We can participate by making sure the products we buy are mercury-free, recycle products that contain mercury, and make sure we discard mercury-containing products correctly and safely. If we all dedicate to only buying products that are mercury-free and are manufactured without any release of mercury; we will increase demand for clean produced products and decrease demand for products that use mercury. We must try to recycle objects containing mercury and dispose of others safely.
Moreover, as members of a community we can contribute in advocating for decreasing the use of coal for energy. Also, eliminating the release of mercury when manufacturing certain products. Our organizations and industries can play a major role by switching from coal energy to cleaner energy sources, containing mercury and disposing of it safely, and also finds ways to manufacture without mercury emissions.