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Mercury Pollution

A Pollutant of Historic Proportions:

Have you ever noticed warnings posted at docks and fishing piers about not eating large amounts of fish that were caught there? These warning signs are becoming increasingly more prevalent. This is due largely from methylmercury which is formed through a natural process in aquatic environments including lakes, rivers, the California Delta, sloughs, retention basins, sediments, and soils. It can form anywhere there is decaying vegetation and slow water. Because Central Valley municipalities, like the City of Lathrop are predominately in or downstream of Gold Country, they have the likelihood of having methylmercury present. During the years of the Gold Rush, miners collectively used mercury by the tons to extract gold. Since water flows downhill, much of that mercury has ended up in the waterways of the Central Valley and in the California Delta where it sits and slowly converts to methylmercury. There are other sources of mercury today that can add to the accumulative problem. These sources include e-waste, florescent light tubes and high density discharge lamps (such as mercury vapor lamps), older thermostats and switches, and other electronic equipment. Methylmercury is a “bio-accumulative”, meaning that it never really goes away and that it accumulates in the new host. For example, if it is in microscopic organisms that are ingested by fish, which in turn get ingested by a bird or a human – it carries through the various hosts and accumulates in the tissues of the final host.

What Is Being Done About It?

The State and local municipalities are still evaluating the magnitude and scope of contributing sources of mercury in our local waterways. Regulations on mercury containing products have increased and many have been phased out. Even though these products have largely been taken off the market, large numbers are still in use and being replaced with low or no-mercury alternatives on a daily basis. Proper handling and disposal of these materials is important.

You Can Be a Part of the Solution:

You can educate yourself by knowing and understanding which products historically and currently contain mercury. The EPA has developed a list of products that can contain mercury -

You can educate yourself by knowing and understanding how mercury enters the body by ingestion and how it may adversely affect women and children. -

You can educate yourself on disposal options for mercury containing products. There are many free and low cost disposal options for mercury containing items. -

Mercury Thermostats

Some wall mounted thermostats use mercury switches to sense and control room temperature in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. Mercury thermostats were widely used in California prior to 1992 and were legal to buy until 2006. The mercury switch is a glass vial with mercury in it which conducts electricity to the temperature control equipment. Replace mercury thermostats with non-toxic programmable (digital) thermostats.

Why should mercury thermostats be recycled?

Approximately 3 grams of mercury is used in a thermostat. Disposing of old thermostats, using traditional methods (throwing out in the trash) result in breakage, allowing mercury to be released into the environment. Elemental mercury is a powerful neurotoxin and does not break down, but builds up in fish, birds and people. Inhaling or ingesting mercury over time can cause irreversible damage to the brain, kidneys, or to developing fetuses. The safe recovery of mercury-containing thermostats prevents pollution and protects public health.

About the Mercury Thermostat Collection Act of 2008

AB 2347 requires that beginning July 1, 2009 all heating and air conditioning wholesalers with physical locations in California will be required by law to collect end-of use thermostats from the public at no charge.

Mercury Product Take Back Locations

Many retail locations, manufactures will take back used mercury-containing products from their customers and then the products are properly recycled, disposed or reused.

Household Hazardous Waste Collection

Many household products contain mercury, from CFLs to button batteries to some thermometers. While mercury isn’t recyclable, many of these products are. You will likely have to utilize your local household hazardous waste (HHW) facility or events to properly dispose of and recycle items containing mercury.

San Joaquin County Household Hazardous Waste Consolidation Facility
7850 R.A. Bridgeford Street
Stockton, CA 95206
(209) 468-3066

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