Mercury Poisoning

What about mercury in fish?

Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth and development.

However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. For most people, the risk from exposure to methylmercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. Yet some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system. The risks from methlymercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of methylmercury in the fish. Federal, state and local governments issue fish advisories when the fish are unsafe to eat.

Fish Consumption Advisories - This page provides links to extensive information on fish advisories, including advisories issued by state and local governments and by the EPA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Fish Kids - This Web site uses interactive stories and games to teach kids ages 8-12 about contaminants in fish and fish advisories.

What about mercury in fluorescent light bulbs?

A fluorescent light bulb (also referred to as a "lamp") is a gas-discharge bulb that uses electricity to excite mercury vapor. The excited mercury atoms produce short-wave ultraviolet light that causes a phosphor to fluoresce, producing visible light. Mercury is an essential component of all fluorescent light bulbs, and allows these bulbs to be energy-efficient light sources.

Types of Fluorescent Bulbs

Tube: The standard straight "linear" tube comes in a variety of diameters and lengths. For example:

  • The T-4 is ½ inch in diameter and often used under kitchen cabinets.
  • The T-8 is 1 inch in diameter and the T-12 is 1½ inches in diameter.
  • Variations include the "U-tube" bent in half to form a U-shape, and the "circline" tube bent into a circle.
  • The larger-diameter tube fluorescents are used in ceiling light fixtures.

Compact fluorescent light (CFL): This is a short bulb made of a tube about the diameter of a pencil that has been either folded or twisted, resulting in an overall size that rivals a standard incandescent light bulb. Since the CFL fits into a standard light socket, the bulb and fixture design possibilities are vastly increased over that of a fluorescent tube. CFLs are now available in a variety of shapes, including spiral (twisted), short tube (folded over) and globe. A globe CFL is either round or A-shaped glass that contains within it a spiral or folded tube.

EPA encourages Americans to use compact fluorescent lights in order to save energy. Switching from traditional incandescent bulbs to CFLs is an effective, simple change everyone can make right now to help use less electricity at home and prevent greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global climate change.

Learn about CFLs – General information on Energy Star-qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), where to use CFLs in a home, and how to choose the right type of CFL bulb.

CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact (not broken) or in use, but CFLs can break and release mercury vapor if dropped or roughly handled. EPA encourages consumers to handle and use CFLs safely. Be careful when removing the bulb from its packaging, installing it, or replacing it. More information is provided in the Energy Star fact sheet: CFLs and Mercury (PDF).

If a CFL breaks in your home, please follow EPA's recommended steps to carefully clean up and dispose of broken bulbs. These recommendations will help to minimize any exposure to released mercury vapor.

EPA encourages the recycling of burned out fluorescent bulbs rather than disposing of them in regular household trash. Recycling of burned out CFLs is one of the best ways to help prevent the release of mercury to the environment by keeping mercury out of landfills and incinerators. Recycling of these bulbs also allows the reuse of the glass, metals and other materials that make up fluorescent lights.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/12/2016

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