A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 September 6, 1990

Government ignores the threat of mercury from municipal waste incinerators,”

An “essential reading” report, issued September 6, 1990, by
Clean Water Action, 1320 18th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20003, tel: 202-457-1286
Cost: $7.50 for Non-Profits & Individuals, $50 for For-Profits


Currently Total: Current Currently Total: Current

STATE Operating & Planned STATE Operating & Planned

1. Massachusetts* 10,605 11,510 23. Delaware 603 995

2. New York* 9,698 15,561 24. Hawaii 603 1,809

3. Florida* 8,203 9,990 25. Georgia* 503 2,178

4. Ohio* 6,132 6,467 26. No.Carolina* 487 1,436

5. Maryland 4,433 5,969 27. Oregon* 483 483

6. Connecticut* 3,956 5,006 28. Arkansas 474 558

7. Michigan* 3,831 5,872 29. Utah 402 402

8. Virginia* 3,449 5,878 30. Washington 386 3,122

9. Maine 2,466 2,577 31. So.Carolina* 322 782

10. Indiana 1,771 1,883 32. Alabama 302 799

11. Tennessee* 1,699 2,844 33. Vermont 251 251

12. Minnesota* 1,694 3,733 34. New Jersey 223 11,749

13. Pennsylvania 1,429 6,791 35. Alaska 216 244

14. Wisconsin* 1,360 1,553 36. Iowa 201 201

15. California* 1,324 2,271 37. Louisiana 201 268

16. Oklahoma* 1,139 1,139 38. Mississippi 151 151

17. Kentucky 1,081 1,192 39. Montana* 70 70

18. Illinois 1,005 2,569 40. Idaho* 50 50

19. Dist. Columbia 1,005 1,005 41. Nevada* 0 558

20. Missouri 804 1,279 42. Kansas 0 838

21. Texas* 697 2,278 43. Rhode Island 0 815

22. New Hampshire 647 1,519 44. New Mexico 0 50

* States where mercury fish advisories TOTAL 74,356 126,695 have been issued.

“Approximately 40 percent of all mercury used in the US
in in household batteries.”

Bob Collins and Dr. Henry Cole of Clean Water Action have produced an excellent report that is essential reading for waste sleuths. “Municipal waste incinerators are now the most rapidly growing source of mercury emissions to the atmosphere. Mercury emissions from incinerators have more than doubled over the past decade. Incineration has surpassed the industrial sector as a major source of atmospheric mercury. Coal-fired power plants represent the largest single source of atmospheric release...Mercury does not break down, but accumulates in the environment...The most significant pathway for mercury exposure is through the food chain...The smallest trace of mercury in lake water (a few parts per trillion) can render fish unsafe to eat through a process known as biomagnification...Mercury levels in aquatic foodchains will take many decades to decline to safe levels...There is no way that tainted fish can be trimmed to remove mercury; this toxic metal is found in muscle throughout the fish...Native Americans and other special populations that depend on fish as a major source of protein are especially at risk...Garbage contains substantial quantities of mercury. It is contained in batteries, paints, dyes, electronics, fluorescent lights, plastics, and many other products common in the waste stream...Airborne mercury can travel, depending on its form, for tens or hundreds of miles, until it is deposited onto the land and water through rain or snow, or ‘dry deposition’ (for example, mercury can be absorbed by vegetation)...The net effect of incineration is to greatly accelerate the environmental release and biological uptake of mercury contained in discarded materials and products...

HEALTH EFFECTS “The serious health effects of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, have been known to scientists and health officials for many years. In 1948, calomel, a widely used teething powder containing mercury, was linked to Acrodynia, a disease characterized by extreme itching, and excruciating pain in the hands, feet and joints. Other effects of mercury poisoning are the personality changes, trembling hands, loose teeth, deafness and blindness. Minamata, Japan. One of the first extensively studied cases of mass mercury poisoning occurred in Minamata Bay, in Kyushu, Japan. From 1953 through 1982, mercury poisoning resulting from the consumption of fish and shellfish containing high concentrations of methylmercury caused an epidemic. 1800 people suffered the effects, including dizziness, blindness, speech disturbances, paralysis, and 46 died. Autopsies performed on people who died, showed mercury concentrations ranging from 2 to 70 ppm (parts per million). The source was a nearby chemical plant, which had discharged methylmercury into the bay for over thirty years, contaminating fish and shellfish...Victims suffered hearing and sight loss, and disturbance of physical and mental development. Six percent of the babies born in Minamata developed cerebral palsy (compared to half a percent elsewhere)...

“METHYLMERCURY is one of the most toxic forms of mercury due to its solubility in fatty tissues, ability to readily penetrate membranes in living organisms, and slowness to be excreted. Methylmercury is strongly held in brain tissue, while metallic mercury has little effect. Methylmercury is 5 to 20 times more toxic than inorganic mercury - so its concentration in foods (especially fish) is significant. It is the form of mercury which lasts longest in the environment, and is most readily concentrated along the food chain. Methylmercury presents a special risk to pregnant women because of its capacity to cross the blood-brain barrier, accumulate in the fetus’s brain, and impair prenatal development. Human exposure to methylmercury is primarily from fish consumption. All mercury in rivers, lakes, bays, and estuaries can be converted by microbes in both water and sediments into methylmercury. Methylmercury is bioaccumulated by minute water organisms such as algae and plankton, and is biomagnified as it moves up the foodchain and can reach high levels in fish.

ACID RAIN - MAGNIFYING THE PROBLEM. Mercury methylation is accelerated by acidic conditions in the body of water. The exact process is not known, but in lakes with a lower pH, mercury can be methylated more rapidly than in more alkaline lakes. In Florida, lakes with high levels of acidity converted less toxic forms of mercury to methylmercury faster than less acidic lakes. In addition, a lower pH increases the ability of methylmercury to permeate fish membranes and speeds the rate of uptake, thus increasing mercury residues in the fish...”



1979 10,301,000 37,100

1986 15,193,000 49,000

1989* 24,643,000 74,400

1993* 56,836,000 126,700


WASTE NOT # 115 A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year, annual rates are: Individual and Non-Profits $35; Student & Seniors $25; Consultants & For-Profits $100; Canadian Subscriptions $US40. Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.