This is a fact sheet about a chemical that may be found in some public or
private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems if found
in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United States
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is Mercury and how is it used?
Mercury is a liquid metal found in natural deposits as ores containing
other elements. Electrical products such as dry-cell batteries,
fluorescent light bulbs, switches, and other control equipment account
for 50% of mercury used.
Why is Mercury being regulated?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires
EPA to determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking water which do or
may cause health problems. These non-enforceable levels, based solely on
possible health risks and exposure, are called Maximum Contaminant Level
The MCLG for mercury has been set at 2 parts per billion (ppb)
because EPA believes this level of protection would not cause any of the
potential health problems described below.
Based on this MCLG,
EPA has set an enforceable standard called a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL).
MCLs are set as close to the MCLGs as possible, considering the ability
of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable
The MCL has also been set at 2 ppb because EPA believes, given
present technology and resources, this is the lowest level to which
water systems can reasonably be required to remove this contaminant
should it occur in drinking water.
These drinking water standards and the regulations for ensuring
these standards are met, are called National Primary Drinking Water
Regulations. All public water supplies must abide by these regulations.
What are the health effects?
Short- or Long-term: EPA has found mercury to potentially cause the
following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above
the MCL for relatively short periods of time: kidney damage.
How much Mercury is produced and released to the environment?
Large amounts of mercury are released naturally from the earths crust.
Combustion of fossil fuels, metal smelters, cement manufacture,
municipal landfills, sewage, metal refining operations, r most notably,
from chloralkali plants are important sources of mercury release. Nearly
8 million lbs. of mercury were produced in the U.S. in 1986.
1987 to 1993, according to EPAs Toxic Chemical Release Inventory,
mercury releases to land and water totaled nearly 68,000 lbs. These
releases were primarily from chemical and allied industries. The largest
releases occurred in Tennessee and Louisiana. The largest direct
releases to water occurred in West Virginia and Alabama.
What happens to Mercury when it is released to the environment?
Mercury is unique among metals in that it can evaporate when released to
water or soil. Also, microbes can convert inorganic forms of mercury to
organic forms which can be accumulated by aquatic life.
How will Mercury be detected in and removed from my drinking water?
The regulation for mercury became effective in 1992. Between 1993 and
1995, EPA required your water supplier to collect water samples once and
analyze them to find out if mercury is present above 2 ppb. If it is
present above this level, the system must continue to monitor this
contaminant every 3 months.
If contaminant levels are found to be consistently above the MCL,
your water supplier must take steps to reduce the amount of mercury so
that it is consistently below that level. The following treatment methods
have been approved by EPA for removing mercury: Coagulation/Filtration;
Granular Activated Carbon; Lime softening; Reverse osmosis.
How will I know if Mercury is in my drinking water?
If the levels of mercury exceed the MCL, the system must notify the public
via newspapers, radio, TV and other means. Additional actions, such as
providing alternative drinking water supplies, may be required to
prevent serious risks to public health.
This is a factsheet about a chemical that may be found in some
public or private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems
if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United
States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Drinking Water Standards:
MCLG: 7 M.L. (million fibers per liter)
MCL: 7 M.L.
Mercury Releases to Water and Land, 1987 to 1993 (in pounds):
Top Six States|
Chemical, allied products
* Water/Land totals only include facilities with releases greater
than a certain amount - usually 1000 to 10,000 lbs.
Note: This fact sheet is part of a larger publication
adapted from U.S. EPA publication: EPA National Primary Drinking Water