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Reducing Risks from Mercury

More on Reducing Risks from Specific Chemicals

Mercury is contained in some of the products we use and in some of the fish we eat. It can be found in your home, in health-care facilities and in schools. EPA’s long-term goal is to reduce risks associated with mercury.  Almost all people have at least trace amounts of mercury in their tissues. Mercury can affect the nervous system. People are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound, when they eat fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury. Still developing, fetuses, infants and children are particularly sensitive to the effects of methylmercury on the nervous system.

The primary pathway of human exposure to mercury is through eating fish containing methylmercury. Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Research shows that most people’s fish consumption does not cause a health concern. Fish that are higher in the food chain have much higher methylmercury concentrations than fish that are lower in the food chain. Individuals may also become exposed to harmful levels of elemental mercury vapor found indoors in work places and homes. When exposed to air, elemental mercury vaporizes and can be inhaled.  The number of individuals exposed in the United States in this way is very small.

Because mercury is a problem that knows no geographic boundaries, EPA’s work has an international component. Mercury can travel thousands of miles in the atmosphere before it is eventually deposited back to the Earth in rainfall or in dry gaseous forms (see Mercury Emissions: The Global Context). Current estimates are that less than half of all mercury deposition within the United States comes from U.S. sources (see Mercury: Basic Information).

OPPT led the development of EPA's Roadmap for Mercury published in July 2006. The Roadmap describes the Agency's progress to date in dealing with mercury issues domestically and internationally, and outlines EPA's major ongoing and planned actions to address risks associated with mercury.


Read more information on OPPT's work on a mercury-related partnership: Partnership for Sustainable Healthcare (PSH).

View EPA's Mercury Web page.

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