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What is mercury?

Mercury is a liquid metal found in natural deposits such as ores containing other elements.
Uses for mercury.
Electrical products such as dry-cell batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, switches, and other
control equipment account for 50 percent of mercury used.
If you are concerned about mercury in a private well, please visit:
EPA's private drinking water wells website
Water Systems Council website
What are mercury's health effects?
Some people who drink water containing mercury well in excess of the maximum contaminant
level (MCL) for many years could experience kidney damage.
This health effects language is not intended to catalog all possible health effects for mercury.
Rather, it is intended to inform consumers of some of the possible health effects associated
with mercury in drinking water when the rule was finalized.
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What are EPA's drinking water regulations for mercury?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to determine the
level of contaminants in drinking water at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur.
These non-enforceable health goals, based solely on possible health risks and exposure over a
lifetime with an adequate margin of safety, are called maximum contaminant level goals
(MCLG). Contaminants are any physical, chemical, biological or radiological substances or
matter in water.
The MCLG for mercury is 0.002 mg/L or 2 ppb. EPA has set this level of protection based on the
best available science to prevent potential health problems. EPA has set an enforceable
regulation for mercury, called a maximum contaminant level (MCL), at 0.002 mg/L or 2
ppb. MCLs are set as close to the health goals as possible, considering cost, benefits and the
ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment
technologies. In this case, the MCL equals the MCLG, because analytical methods or treatment
technology do not pose any limitation.
The Phase II Rule, the regulation for mercury, became effective in 1992. The Safe Drinking
Water Act requires EPA to periodically review the national primary drinking water regulation for
each contaminant and revise the regulation, if appropriate. EPA reviewed mercury as part of the
Six Year Review and determined that the 0.002 mg/L or 2 ppb MCLGand 0.002 mg/L or 2
ppb MCL for mercury are still protective of human health.
More information on the Six Year Review of Drinking Water Standards.
States may set more stringent drinking water MCLGs and MCLs for mercury than EPA.
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How does mercury get into my drinking water?
The major sources of mercury in drinking water are erosion of natural deposits; discharge from
refineries and factories; runoff from landfills; and runoff from croplands.
A federal law called the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA)
requires facilities in certain industries, which manufacture, process, or use significant amounts
of toxic chemicals, to report annually on their releases of these chemicals. For more
information on the uses and releases of chemicals in your state, contact the Community Right-
to-Know Hotline: (800) 424-9346.
EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) website provides information about the types and
amounts of toxic chemicals that are released each year to the air, water, and land.
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How will I know if mercury is in my drinking water?
When routine monitoring indicates that mercury levels are above the MCL, your water supplier
must take steps to reduce the amount of mercury so that it is below that level. Water suppliers
must notify their customers as soon as practical, but no later than 30 days after the system
learns of the violation. Additional actions, such as providing alternative drinking water supplies,
may be required to prevent serious risks to public health.
See EPA's public notification requirements for public water systems.
If your water comes from a household well, check with your health department or local water
systems that use ground water for information on contaminants of concern in your area.
For more information on wells, go to EPA's website on private wells.
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How will mercury be removed from my drinking water?
The following treatment method(s) have proven to be effective for removing mercury to below
0.002 mg/L or 2 ppb: coagulation/filtration, granular activated carbon, lime softening, and
reverse osmosis.
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Mercury in Water and Drinking Water
Elemental mercury is typically released from industrial processes, agricultural
processes, household, commercial and medical products containing mercury, sewage
discharge and sediment. Elemental mercury vapor may cause nervous system damage
when exposed at high concentrations.

Inorganic mercury is found in batteries and is used in the chemical industry and it is
produced from elemental mercury through the process of oxidation. Inorganic mercury
is the most common form that is present in drinking water but is not considered to be
very harmful to human health, in terms of the levels found in drinking water. However,
kidney damage may result from exposure to inorganic mercury through other sources.
Organic mercury (primarily methyl mercury) is
produced by specific bacterial organisms in
surface waters that convert inorganic mercury
into organic mercury, which is the form of
mercury that poses a significant threat to human
health. Methyl mercury is ingested typically by
fish and bioaccumulates both in the tissues of
fish and the humans that eat these fish. Large
predatory fish can contain as much as 100,000
times more methyl mercury than the
surrounding water medium. This form is rarely
present in drinking water but is a very common
contaminant in the tissues of fish and causes
damage to the nervous system as well as
teratogenesis. Both inorganic and organic
mercury are considered to have a more
detrimental effect on children due to the fact
that both forms are more easily absorbed into
their system.

In 1974, the EPA established the Safe Drinking Water Act
that set specific guidelines on contaminants that are
commonly found in drinking water. However, it was not
until 1992 that mercury, in particular, became regulated.
Both the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal and the
Maximum Contaminant Level were set at 2 parts per
billion because current technology allows public water
suppliers to detect and remove mercury levels that low.
The monitoring of mercury levels must take place every
three months if the level is higher than the set guideline
and specific measures must be taken to reduce these levels
if they are exceeded persistently. Approved methods of
removing mercury from the drinking water supply are the
following: Coagulation/Filtration, Granular Activated
Carbon, Lime softening and Reverse osmosis.