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Mercury


Frequently Asked Questions

What is mercury?

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in air, water and soil. Mercury originates in the earth's crust. It is released into the environment from volcanic activity, weathering of rocks and as a result of human activity.

Human activity is the main cause of mercury releases, particularly coal-fired power stations, residential coal burning for heating and cooking, industrial processes, waste incinerators and as a result of mining for mercury, gold and other metals. (World Health Organization Fact Sheet, January 2016)

Why should I care about mercury?

Exposure to mercury – even small amounts – may cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life. Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. Mercury is considered by the World Health Organization as one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern. (World Health Organization Fact Sheet, January 2016)

People are mainly exposed to mercury in its methylated form when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound. Waterfowl also bioaccumulate mercury in their tissues and have the potential to pose a health risk when consumed.

Which waters are tested for mercury?

Utah has been sampling fish tissue for mercury analysis since 2005 to determine locations where fish have high methylmercury concentrations. The Division of Water Quality partners with Division of Wildlife Resources and Department of Health for issuing fish consumption advisories where appropriate.

DWQ staff develop an annual fish sampling plan. Sampling criteria currently include:

  • Sampling when a current consumption advisory is greater than 5 years old
  • Sampling when there is no advisory but the existing data are greater than 5 years old
  • Sampling to address uncertainties from previous years data
  • Sampling waterbodies that have no mercury data

What are the current advisory locations?