Mercury is an element that enters the environment through human activity and natural sources. It is a natural component of the Earth’s crust; however, the majority of mercury comes from improper disposal of mercury-containing products and the burning of fossil fuels. Natural emissions of mercury occur through the erosion of rocks, eruption of volcanoes and decomposition of soil.
Although mercury is emitted into the atmosphere through both natural and man-made processes, only man-influenced or man-made mercury is deemed dangerous. Mercury is emitted into the air from vehicles and industrial spaces that burn fossil fuels. When emitted through these sources, mercury can travel hundreds of thousands of miles before dropping back to the Earth’s surface in the form of snow, rain and dry depositions. As a result, mercury infiltrates bodies of water and the fish we consume.
Mercury also enters the environment from the mishandling of mercury-containing products. Fluorescent lights, neon lamps, thermometers, thermostats, gauges and various laboratory solutions all contain traces of mercury. When these products are broken or improperly discarded, the mercury within them leaks out into the environment.
Mercury is known to have harmful effects on fish, birds and mammals. Due to its toxic nature, several states in the America have laws that regulate human activities involving mercury, including its removal and disposal.