Chicago, Ill. May 6, 2008 A recent study shows that mercury releases from products in the U.S. declined dramatically between 1990 and 2005, but that they continue to be a significant source of environmental contamination. Mercury released from products contributes nearly one-third of total mercury emissions to the air in the U.S. The findings offer a new view into the relative magnitudes of the different sources of mercury release.
Release of mercury to the environment is a serious problem and can harm the development of a fetus if the mother is exposed to high levels. Mercury also frequently accumulates in fish populations. A number of highly-used products release mercury throughout their lifecycles, often in ways that are difficult to measure directly. Therefore, there are considerable uncertainties about the magnitude of mercury release into the environment that is associated with these products.
The study, published in Journal of Industrial Ecology, uses a method called substance flow analysis to develop improved estimates of the environmental releases caused by mercury-containing products and to provide policy-makers with a better understanding of opportunities for reducing releases of mercury into the environment.
Mercury-containing products such as thermometers, switches and dental products release mercury throughout the product life-cycle, including during production, use and disposal, says Alexis Cain, lead author of the study and an environmental scientist with the EPA. Substance flow analysis can be used to estimate the mercury releases to air, land and water at different stages of a product lifecycle. It can also help identify actions that would be effective in minimizing mercury releases.
The disposal of mercury containing products has been the subject of public debate in recent years. Campaigns have been started to eliminate mercury thermometers and to discontinue mercury use in energy-saving fluorescent light
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