Scrap Metal and Mercury Poisoning; the risk of pollutants in electronics is real.
So many of us love nature – those beautiful rivers, lakes and forests that give us a place to escape to when urban life gets hectic.
And we also appreciate the ones who live there permanently – the wildlife that includes fish, ducks, and other animals.
What so many people who love both nature and wildlife don’t fully understand is how much danger we put them in by doing something very simple. Tossing our old electronics or scrap metal into our regular trash means it gets taken to the community landfill.
The chemicals in outdated electronics and scrap metal are lethal to our environment, our wildlife and even to our own personal health. That’s particularly true if the chemicals contained within our used laptops, smartphones, television sets, computer monitors and other equipment seep into the ground – and the groundwater.
The risk of pollutants in electronics and scrap metal
That’s especially true of mercury, one of the most harmful pollutants in these products. The risk of mercury poisoning is a serious threat for fish and wildlife. And toxic mercury also poses dangers to all of us if it accumulates in rivers, lakes, and forests.
Fortunately, there’s a very simple solution. We have the ability to protect ourselves and our wildlife and nature preserves by recycling our ewaste or any scrap metal we have. They can then get reused rather than get tossed in a landfill. Companies like GLE Scrap Metal will buy the used appliances, old car parts and other scrap metal you have, and they can be used to make new products.
And a company like Great Lakes Electronics Corporation will do the same with your used electronics.
That’s how we start to ensure that our health and our environment don’t face serious threats from pollutants.
What is mercury and why is it so lethal?
The element Mercury occurs in deposits throughout the world, mostly as what is known as mercuric sulfide, or cinnabar. All rocks, sediments, water, and soils naturally contain varying amounts of mercury. Mineral occurrences are naturally high in mercury.
As an element, it’s widely used in a whole variety of products, from thermometers to fluorescent lamps and so much more. Exposure to it is very dangerous.
Mercury poisoning is a type of metal poisoning due to this exposure. That’s because mercury is a highly potent neurotoxin. Exposure to it can impact the functions and development of the central nervous system in both people and wildlife.
How does mercury impact people?
In humans, it can result in symptoms that include muscle weakness, numbness in the hands and feet, memory loss, skin rashes, anxiety, and poor coordination.
The health risks are well documented. Pregnant women who are exposed to mercury are at great risk. Mercury is most harmful in the early stages of a child’s development.
Mercury is a found both naturally and as an introduced contaminant in the environment. And research indicates it can be a threat even within areas not considered to be highly polluted. The risk comes from the likelihood of exposure. Mercury is a significant environmental problem because of its ability to bioaccumulate in the aquatic food chain, which can eventually impact human health.
Scientists have reported alarming levels of mercury accumulation in wildlife. Their findings note that in some areas, fish have difficulty schooling, birds lay fewer eggs and mammals have a much more difficult time hunting and finding food. The mercury is known to impair their motor skills. And elevated mercury levels can negatively impact a species’ immune systems.
The bottom line is mercury poses a severe threat to the survival of our wildlife.
And people are further exposed to this risk by eating contaminated fish and wildlife in the aquatic food chains. Anyone who consumes a large amount of fish and seafood could potentially be at risk if it’s contaminated by mercury.
Why do used electronics pose a risk?
Without a doubt, mercury in electronics poses a serious risk. Millions of used electronics become obsolete each year. The International Association of Electronics Recyclers is projecting that 1 billion computers will be scrapped worldwide in coming years. That’s at a rate of 100 million units per year.
Mercury is just one of many toxins inside electronic waste. Others include lead, cadmium, lithium, brominated flame retardants, and phosphorous coatings.
This is why there’s been such a strong push for recycling used electronics. Some states have banned these products from going into landfills altogether.
Sadly, some state and local governments still don’t have the existing collection and recycling infrastructure to deal with this problem. They also lack the funding to properly manage old electronics.
But most states now recognize the problem and are working to correct it.
Is mercury also found in scrap metals?
Alkali and metal processing can contribute to mercury concentrations in some areas. Mercury is the only common metal liquid at ordinary temperatures.
Metals used in a variety of products – from automobiles to appliances, for example – are likely to contain mercury. Mercury switches and other components need to be removed from vehicles and appliances no longer in use, prior to crushing or shredding them. Mercury can’t be removed from the steel mill scrap feed afterwards. So mercury-contaminated material needs to come out at an early stage of the recycling process.
That’s why it’s so crucial to recycle, so the metal can be reused as safely as possible. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has even issued guidelines for the smelting of scrap cars that potentially have mercury-containing electronic switches.
Scrap Metal and Mercury Poisoning
There are so many products that we rely on today that contain mercury. And those products – from the cars we drive to the laptops that connect us to the internet – wouldn’t function without it. Securely contained within these products, the risk is absent.
It’s only when we choose to discard scrap metal or used electronics that the risks increase. If these items end up in landfills, the chemicals within them like mercury can seep out into the environment. That’s where the contamination starts.
It doesn’t have to be this way, with the availability of recycling as an environmentally proven alternative.
GLE Scrap Metal will recycle all your used scrap, in an environmentally friendly way. Great Lakes Electronics Corporation will do the same with your used electronics.