Mercury is a naturally occurring heavy metal ("liquid metal) that is found within the Earth's Crust that is also known by the name "quicksilver". On the Earth, mercury is present in three forms: elemental, inorganic, and organic. In its elemental form, mercury is a shiny and silvery white and at room temperature it acts like a liquid and will evaporate into the atmosphere. As an inorganic metal it commonly binds with gold, silver, cadmium, and zinc and is commonly present in the environment as mercuric oxides, chlorides, and sulfides. When the mercury combines with carbon, inorganic mercury compounds known as organomercurials, such as methylmercury, are created. Organic forms of mercury are generally much more toxic than inorganic mercury because the organic forms are more easily absorbed by the body.
The major source of mercury in the environment is the mercury that naturally volatilizes, or evaporates from the Earth's crust. Other sources include combustion of fossil fuels, electrical items like dry-cell batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, and mercury switches. Mercury is used in thermometers, dental amalgams, mining processes because it combines with rare earth metals , and some industrial processes. Outside of the USA, inorganic mercury may be found in some cosmetics.
Older readers in the U.S. may remember Mercurochrome™ (Merbromin), a complex organic compound of mercury, which was a bright red-orange liquid used as a topical antiseptic. It is no longer available in the U.S. and some European countries because of its mercury content but can still be found in many parts of the world.
All three forms of mercury can create a health concern or problem. Elemental mercury can be taken into the body via respiration when the mercury vapors volatilize into the atmosphere during smelting or because of a spill or accidental release. Inorganic mercury uptake is typically related to the exposure to inorganic mercury through manufacturing or consumer products. Inside the body, these forms of mercury are converted to organic mercury. Direct inorganic mercury exposure is typically associated with the bioaccumulation of mercury in the food-chain. The normal pathway is when humans eat fish or shellfish that have been contaminated with methylmercury and the organic mercury compounds build-up in our systems. Therefore, mercury exposure can be through skin absorption, inhalation, and ingestion.
Inorganic mercury can impact the digestion and neurological systems. Organic mercury can affect the kidneys, nervous system, and has been associated with cerebral palsy and developmental disorders in infants. Mercury exposure can also be associated with skin rashes.
Mercury is regulated as a primary drinking water standard. The EPA has set a maximum contaminant level of 0.002 mg/L or 2 ppb.
Like many contaminants in drinking water, this element is potentially hazardous at levels or concentrations that do not impart a noticeable taste, odor, or appearance to the water. Your best course of action is to get your water tested and compile as much information as possible about your water supply source, well construction, surrounding land-use, and local geology. If you do have a mercury problem, there are water treatment technologies available now that can reduce or even remove mercury from your drinking water.
Note: Do not just test your water for Mercury because there may be other primary and secondary drinking water standards that are elevated or that may interfere with the proposed remediation system and the ability of a treatment process to remove mercury.
Level 1 Testing is done with simple observations that an individual can make with their own senses such as sight, smell, and taste. These observations can be readily apparent or can be observed as they change over time. In addition, accessible related information about the home can also be used to narrow down the cause of your water issues.
The symptoms for mercury exposure in the water/food include:
A recent study also suggests that timber harvesting and farming may release sequestered mercury into the environment. View related article.
Are you located in an area that is high in Mercury? Check out the USGS Map.
Level 2 Testing is Do-It-Yourself testing that can be done in your own home using a Testing Kit. After you’ve done Level 1 Testing, Level 2 Testing can confirm if your observations are correct. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment (see below) or continue to Level 3 Testing.
The warning signs for mercury can not be easily identified by an at-home water test. It is likely you will need to rely on observable health issues, and information about surrounding land use activities to diagnose a potential problem. For Level 2 testing, we recommend a basic at-home water screening test, hair analysis, and if you are not aware of the historic land-use, we recommend a Neighborhood Environmental Report.
<div class="product-note in-L4-methyl-tertiary">Note: Concentrations < 40 ppb</div>
<div class="product-note in-L6-toluene">Note: If the concentration is less than 0.8 mg/L</div>
Level 3 Testing is done through an accredited Water Testing Laboratory. With Level 3 Testing, you can order a testing kit that is used to prepare your sample and submit it to the lab. By utilizing a lab, you have the assurance that a certified water expert had analyzed your water sample. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment options (see below) or continue to Level 4 Testing - Certified Testing.
A Level 4 Certified Test Test uses chain-of-custody with a water professional coming to your home to prepare the water sample and then works with an accredited laboratory in order to certify your test results. This type of testing not only gives you the highest level of assurance in the accuracy of your test results, but can also be used as a document in legal cases. For Baseline Testing, we recommend that you use Certified Testing.
If you are concerned about mercury and need baseline or certified testing, we strongly recommend that you complete the Diagnostic assessment, conduct an informational screening test, and order a Neighborhood Hazard Survey. With this information, we can assist in determining the type and extent of the testing that may be needed and assist in locating a suitable facility.