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Prevent Mercury Pollution

Lightbulbs & wetlandsKeep your family and water safe from mercury: Recycle fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent light bulbs at your local household hazardous waste facility and participating drop-off sites.

Fluorescent lamps save energy!!

Compared to standard incandescent lamps, fluorescent lamps can reduce energy consumption by 50% and lighting costs by 30-38 percent. Fluorescent lamps last, on an average, 10 times longer than conventional lamps.

Fluorescent lamps contain mercury, so dispose of them correctly.

Improper lamp disposal is a human health and water pollution problem, because lamps broken in landfills or at home release mercury – a potent neurotoxin. Dispose of used fluorescent lamps at your local household hazardous waste collection centers. These centers send fluorescent lamps to specialized recycling facilities where the mercury in them is recovered for reuse, rather than escaping into the environment and polluting our water. (Note: fluorescent bulbs are safe to use)

Where to take used fluorescent lamps:

You can drop off your used fluorescent lamps at several retail stores in Santa Clara County during their normal business hours. Click here for a list of stores offering this facility.

How else can you help reduce mercury pollution?

  • Buy low-mercury fluorescent lamps – Major lighting manufacturers now produce lamps with approximately 80 percent less mercury than standard fluorescent lamps. For example: Philips “Alto,” GE “Ecolux” and Sylvania “Ecologic.”
    However, since none of these lamps are completely mercury-free, they should also be disposed of at local household hazardous waste collection centers.
  • Replace mercury fever thermometers with non-mercury digital or glass gallium-indium-tin (galinstan) thermometers – The standards of accuracy for non-mercury thermometers are the same as those for mercury thermometers.
  • Recycle mercury containing thermometers, thermostats, and batteries – Because mercury is a good conductor of electricity and is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, it is used in household products like thermometers, thermostats, and batteries. All of these are accepted at local household hazardous waste collection centers and should be turned in there.

What should you do if a mercury-containing product breaks in your home?

If you spill mercury in your home:

  • Turn off the heating or air conditioning and ventilate the room to the outdoors.
  • Avoid touching the mercury with your bare hands and do not vacuum the spill.
  • Using a medicine dropper, collect the mercury and place the mercury and the dropper in an airtight container.
  • Take the mercury to your local household hazardous waste facility or collection event.

More Mercury Information:

  • Mercury is a potent nerve toxin and can affect the brain and nervous systems. Pregnant women and young children are most susceptible to mercury poisoning. It can also affect fetal development, causing birth defects.
  • Mercury released into the environment is transported by air, rain, snow or runoff and deposited in our creeks and Bay. Bacteria convert it into a form that is easily absorbed by microscopic animals and plants, which in turn are consumed by larger animals. You can get exposed to mercury by consuming mercury-contaminated fish.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a nationwide consumer advisory that children and nursing mothers should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or ocean whitefish because of mercury contamination.
  • Each year, broken and landfilled fluorescent lamps in the Bay Area release enough mercury vapors to contaminate a water body almost as big as Lake Tahoe.
  • Due to the San Francisco Bay mercury contamination, it is recommended that adults eat no more than two servings of fish from the Bay per month.
  • Five of California’s largest grocery retailers have begun displaying signs cautioning consumers about the dangers of mercury in fish. The signs, hung near fish counters, advise women and children to not eat swordfish and shark, and to limit consumption of fresh tuna.
  • Mercury harms aquatic life too. Information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that mercury in sediment may cause increased mortality and deformities of rainbow trout embryos.
  • The US EPA: http://www.epa.gov/mercury

Helpful Mercury Fact Sheets:

Guide to eating fish from the San Francisco Bay

Harmful chemicals like mercury and PCBs are in some fish in the San Francisco Bay. Women 18-45 years old and children should only eat fish with less chemicals in them. To learn which fish have less chemicals in them, and which fish to avoid, please download this Guide to Eating Fish and Shellfish from the San Francisco Bay from the California Department of Public Health. For more information and brochures in other languages visit: http://www.sfei.org/content/educational-materials.

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