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Keeping mercury out of our waterways

We're committed to returning safe water to the environment. But certain pollutants, such as mercury, cannot be removed in the water filtration process. Mercury is a liquid metal that is free-flowing at room temperature. It is a persistent, bio-accumulative toxin that poses a risk to human health, wildlife and the environment. It occurs naturally in the environment and can be released into the air, water or soil by human activity.

Mercury that gets into the sanitary sewer system eventually will make its way to a water resource recovery facility or to a septic system. As is the case with most municipal WRRFs, our treatment plants are not designed to treat or reduce mercury in the wastewater. Mercury that enters a wastewater treatment plant concentrates in the biosolids, volatilizes into the air or is discharged with the treated water. When mercury enters the water, bacterial processes can transform it into a toxic, organic form (methyl mercury) that accumulates in fish, animals that eat fish, and humans.

Why do we need mercury? According to the Maryland Department of the Environment, mercury is used in:

  • Fluorescent lamps
  • Button batteries
  • Mercury switches
  • Electrical Relays
  • Thermometers
  • Mercury vapor lamps
  • High pressure sodium lamps
  • Metal halide lamps
  • Thermostat probes
  • Gauges
  • Dental amalgams
  • Manometers
  • Barometers
  • Laboratory solutions
  • Contact lens solutions containing thimerosal
  • Alkaline batteries (before 1996)
  • Old latex paints (before 1990)

Prevent mercury from getting into the environment

Don't toss mercury or mercury-containing products into the trash; they might end up in a landfill and over time could leach into the landfill leachate. If that liquid is discharged at a water resource recovery facility, the mercury could end up in the sludge or pass through into the receiving waterway.

To prevent mercury from getting into waterways, never toss mercury into the sanitary sewer system. Have a reputable recycler remove the waste; small businesses can contact their local health department for disposal options. And remember, whenever possible, substitute non-mercury-containing products for mercury-containing products.

In Montgomery County

Montgomery County residents can dispose of mercury and mercury-containing items during scheduled household hazardous waste collection events. For more information, call the Montgomery County Division of Solid Waste Services at 240-777-2500, visit https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/sws/ or email them at recycle@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Montgomery County businesses that are Small Quantity Generators of mercury and other hazardous materials (less than 220 pounds of hazardous waste per calendar month) can register for Montgomery County's Ecowise collection program by calling 301-840-2371. A fee is assessed on a per-pound basis at the point of collection.

In Prince George's County

Prince George's County residents can dispose of mercury and mercury-containing items at the Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility at the Brown Station Road Landfill. For more information call the county's Waste Reduction Section at 301-952-7625.

Prince George's County businesses that are Small Quantity Generators of mercury and other hazardous materials will be referred to a contractor. For a referral, call 301-952-7625.

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Last Modified: February 25, 2021, 4:46 pm EST