Mercury in Products and Waste: Legislative and Regulatory Activities to Control Mercury

Report for Congress
Mercury in Products and Waste: Legislative and
Regulatory Activities to Control Mercury
May 12, 2003
Linda G. Luther
Environmental Policy Analyst
Resources, Science, and Industry Division

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

Mercury in Products and Waste: Legislative and
Regulatory Activities to Control Mercury
Mercury is a highly volatile, naturally-occurring element. It is a potent
neurotoxin that can cause brain, lung, and kidney damage. Mercury also has
properties that make it useful in a variety of household, medical, and industrial
products and processes. It is a component in such products as thermometers,
flourescent lamps, electrical switches, dental fillings, and batteries. This report
discusses the health effects of mercury, how it is released into the environment, and
current federal and state activities and recent legislative activity in Congress to
control mercury releases into the environment.
Human-related activities have significantly changed the natural distribution of
mercury in the environment. For example, mercury is released during manufacturing
processes or when mercury-containing products are ultimately discarded as waste.
Significant sources of mercury include coal-burning power plants, cement
manufacturing operations, and the incineration of municipal, hazardous, and medical
wastes. (For a discussion of air emissions of mercury, see CRS Report RL31881.)
After mercury vapors enter the air, they are ultimately converted to the highly
toxic methylmercury. Exposure to methylmercury can cause a wide array of health
problems, including damage to the brain and central nervous system. Potential
sources of human exposure to mercury include eating fish or shellfish contaminated
with methylmercury, breathing mercury vapor from spills or a contaminated
workplace, or absorbing mercury through dental work.
Both federal and state regulations govern the use of mercury in products and
manufacturing processes. Federal regulation is done under the authority of several
statutes and multiple agencies. Regulations are intended to control releases of
mercury to the environment, reduce or eliminate the use of mercury in products, or
specify disposal requirements. Also, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) has established voluntary efforts and education outreach programs aimed at
reducing the use of mercury in products and manufacturing processes and at better
managing mercury-containing wastes.
Recent legislative activity by states has gone beyond the health-based criteria
associated with the use or disposal of particular products. Instead, many states are
trying to reduce the problems associated with mercury by restricting its use
altogether. For example, some states have banned mercury use or required warning
labels on certain mercury-containing products. Some states have also implemented
recycling or disposal requirements for certain types of mercury-containing products.
Recent legislative activity at the federal level has mirrored activities undertaken
by many states. Bills introduced in the 108th Congress seek to reduce the use of
mercury in such products as thermometers, lighting products, and dental fillings, and
to provide warning labels on mercury-containing products. Legislation has also been
proposed requiring that mercury-containing waste be removed from the waste stream
before incineration. This report will be updated as events warrant.

Background ..................................................1
Health Effects of Mercury...................................2
Mercury in Products and Waste...............................3
Federal and State Regulation of Mercury...........................3
Federal Regulation of Mercury...............................4
State Actions to Control Mercury.............................7
Recent Legislative Action.......................................9
Legislation Aimed at Protecting Children.......................9
Legislation Aimed at Reducing Mercury in Products or Waste......10
Conclusion ..................................................11
List of Tables
Table 1. Selected Health Effects of Mercury.............................2
Table 2. Federal Regulation of Mercury................................4
Table 3. Summary of Selected State Actions to Control Mercury.............8

Mercury in Products and Waste: Legislative
and Regulatory Activities to Control Mercury
Mercury is a highly volatile, naturally-occurring element. It is a potent
neurotoxin that can cause brain, lung, and kidney damage. Mercury exists in three
forms: elemental (metallic), organic, and inorganic. All forms of mercury are toxic,
but the degree to which it is toxic to humans depends on the form it takes. This
report discusses the health effects of mercury, how it is released into the
environment, and current federal and state activities and recent legislative activity in
Congress to control mercury releases into the environment.
Elemental mercury is distributed throughout the environment naturally by such
processes as volcanic activity, movement of rivers, lakes, and streams, and biological
processes. Since the industrial revolution, the distribution of mercury has changed
significantly due to human-related (anthropogenic) activities. For example,
elemental mercury is used in manufacturing processes, such as the production of
chlorine gas and caustic soda (known as chlor-alkali production). It may also be an
added ingredient in detonating devices, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, blood pressure
devices, electrical switches, thermometers, fluorescent lights, dental fillings, and
batteries. During such processes, the use or accidental spill of mercury allows it to
vaporize. Once it is released into the atmosphere, elemental mercury may undergo
a photochemical reaction that transforms it into inorganic mercury.
Inorganic mercury vapors are introduced to the environment through additional
anthropogenic sources, such as, coal-burning power plants, mining operations,
cement manufacturing operations, and the incineration of municipal, hazardous, and
medical wastes. Inorganic mercury may also migrate to water or soil after mercury-
containing wastes are disposed of on land.
When airborne, inorganic mercury is eventually deposited on land or into water,
where it may be transformed into the highly toxic organic form, methylmercury.
This process, which is not completely understood, is known as methylation.
Methylation is a microbial process controlled by certain bacteria and enhanced by
chemical and environmental variables, such as the presence of organic matter and
oxygen.1 Methylmercury poses a particular risk because it concentrates in animal
tissue as it moves up the food chain, a process known as bioaccumulation.

1 Mark E. Brigham, David P. Krabbenhoft, and Pixie A. Hamilton, “Mercury in Stream
Ecosystems-New Studies Initiated by the U.S. Geological Survey,” U.S. Department of the
Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, March 2003.

Health Effects of Mercury. The health effects of mercury on humans
depend on the form of mercury and the intensity and length of time of exposure.2
Humans may be exposed to mercury by breathing its vapors, through ingestion, or by
absorption through the skin. The nervous system is sensitive to all forms of mercury.
Exposure to elemental mercury vapors and to methlymercury is more harmful than
others because the mercury in these forms is capable of reaching the brain and3
potentially causing permanent damage. Selected health effects of mercury, specific
to each form, are summarized in Table 1.
Table 1. Selected Health Effects of Mercury
Mercury TypeExposure RouteHealth Impacts
ElementalVapor inhalation andShort-term exposure to high levels
absorption through thecan damage the lungs, long-term
lungs; readily enters theexposure to low levels can cause
bloodstream and crossesneurological damage.
the blood-brain barrier
InorganicIngestion and absorptionPotentially toxic to the kidneys;
through the gastrointestinalneurological and behavioral
tractdisorders possible.
OrganicIngestion and rapid andHighly toxic and potentially
(Methylmercury)extensive absorptiondamaging to the nervous system,
through the gastrointestinalespecially in the developing
tract; readily enters thenervous system of a fetus or child
bloodstream and crossesunder six.
the blood-brain barrier
Source: Table prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) based on data from the U.S.
Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention and from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
December 1997 “Mercury Study Report to Congress.
Human exposure to mercury would likely come from one or more of the
following sources:
!Eating fish or shellfish contaminated with methylmercury;
!Breathing vapor from mercury spills (e.g., from broken fever thermometers)
or contaminated workplace air (e.g., dental or health services industries that
use mercury-containing devices or chlor-alkali plants); and
!Absorbing mercury through dental work or medical treatments.

2 “Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals,” U.S. Health
and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 2003, available
online at [].
3 U.S. Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Agency for Toxic Substances and
Disease Registry “ToxFAQs” on Mercury, April 1999.

Mercury in Products and Waste. Mercury conducts electricity, is liquid
at room temperature, combines easily with other metals, and expands and contracts
evenly with temperature changes. These properties make mercury useful in a variety
of household, medical, and industrial products and processes. For example, mercury
is an added component in electrical switches, thermostats, cosmetics,
pharmaceuticals, dental amalgams, scientific instruments, thermometers, and mercury
vapor lamps (e.g., fluorescent or high intensity discharge lamps). In 2001,
manufacturers within the United States used between 200 and 300 metric tons of
mercury as part of their manufacturing processes or to create products that rely on
mercury’s properties.4
While coal-fired power plants are the greatest single source of air emissions of
mercury, significant mercury releases to air, land, and water are also attributed to the
use of mercury in products and manufacturing processes. In such cases, mercury is
released during manufacturing, either from processes where the mercury is exposed
to air or when mercury-containing products are broken while in use. Mercury
releases also occur when mercury-containing products are ultimately discarded as
waste, either through land disposal or incineration. (For a discussion of air emissions
of mercury, see CRS Report RL31881, “Mercury Emissions to the Air: Background
and Legislative Proposals.”)
Currently there are limited choices for the management of mercury-containing
wastes. Essentially, it can be incinerated, disposed of or stored long-term on land,
or recycled. Each option ultimately returns the mercury to the environment. As an
element, it does not degrade and cannot be eliminated from the waste cycle once it
is introduced. It can only change forms.
Federal and State Regulation of Mercury
Both federal and state regulations govern the use of mercury in products and
manufacturing processes. Those requirements regulate mercury either directly or5
indirectly. Regulations with a “direct” impact on mercury involve restrictions or
requirements related to the use or release of mercury in products or manufacturing
processes. For example, the regulations promulgated under the Resource
Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA, 42 U.S.C. 321) established handling and
disposal requirements for mercury-containing wastes.
The “indirect” regulation of mercury is achieved through setting health and risk-
based environmental standards. Environmental standards specify maximum
acceptable mercury concentration limits for certain media. Mercury limits that have
been established include those for groundwater and drinking water, fish tissue, and
mercury-containing waste disposed of in landfills. Standards indirectly regulate
mercury because they do not specify how a certain limit must be achieved. For

4 U.S. EPA’s “2002 Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy -Annual Progress Report 2002,”
released in March 2003.
5 This delineation of regulatory categories is discussed by EPA in its report “Background
Information on Mercury Sources and Regulations,” available online at
[], undated.

example, the maximum contaminant level for mercury in drinking water, established
under the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300f), is .002 milligrams per liter.6
It is left up to public water systems to determine how they will reduce mercury
concentrations if they are above this level.
Federal Regulation of Mercury. Federal regulation of mercury is done
under the authority of several statutes. Regulations to control releases of mercury to
the environment are generally centered around health-based criteria. Regulations
may also serve to reduce or eliminate the use of mercury in products or to specify
disposal requirements. For example, RCRA and the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7401)
have provisions intended to reduce or control releases of hazardous constituents to
the environment, including mercury. Also, limitations on mercury-added products
have been specified in regulations promulgated under the Federal Insecticide,
Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA, 7 U.S.C. 135) and the Federal Food, Drug,
and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA, 21 U.S.C. 301).
The regulation of mercury also falls under more than one agency’s jurisdiction.
For example, EPA regulates mercury in pesticides, and mercury releases to air, water,
and land. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates mercury in drugs,
cosmetics, food, and dental products. The Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) regulates mercury air exposures in the workplace. Federal
requirements regulating mercury are summarized in Table 2.
Table 2. Federal Regulation of Mercury
Requirements Regarding the
Statutory AuthorityUse or Release of Mercury
Pursuant to Attendant Regulations
Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, andBanned or phased out the use of mercury in
Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)paints and certain pesticides.

7 U.S.C. 135 (1972)

Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Limits the use of mercury as an antimicrobial
Act (FFDCA)or preservative in cosmetics.
21 U.S.C. 301 Regulates the use of mercury in dental
Food and Drug AdministrationRequired FDA to compile a list of drugs and
Modernization Act of 1997foods that contain intentionally introduced
(FDAMA)mercury compounds, and provide a quantitative
Amended 21 U.S.C. 301 and qualitative analysis of the mercury
compounds in the list.
Comprehensive EnvironmentalRequires that mercury spills of one or more
Response, Compensation, andpounds be reported to the National Response
Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA orCenter.


42 U.S.C. 9601 (1980)

6 40 CFR 141.62

Clean Water ActRequires a permit system to regulate industrial
33 U.S.C. 1251 (1977) discharges to surface water. Permits may assign
a facility a specific mercury discharge limit or
require them to monitor and report on mercury
Emergency Planning and Establishes reporting requirements for
Community Right-to-Know Actaccidental and intentional releases.
(EPCRA, Title III of Superfund Establishes requirements to report inventory
Amendments and Reauthorizationinformation to state and local authorities.
Act) Requires facilities to submit a report to the
42 U.S.C.9601 (1986)Toxics Release Inventory when they
manufacture, process, or otherwise use 10
pounds or more of mercury.
Resource Conservation and Establishes disposal requirements for wastes
Recovery Act (RCRA)that contain mercury (e.g., thermometers,
42 U.S.C. 321 (1976)medical & dental wastes, and mercury
Allows states to adopt less stringent
“Universal Waste Rules” if certain often-
used, mercury-containing wastes are
recycled (i.e., thermostats, fluorescent and
high-intensity discharge lamps, and
Mercury-Containing RechargeablePhased out the use of mercury in batteries;
Battery Management Act (Batteryestablished labeling, collection and recycling,
Act)and disposal requirements for certain regulated

42 U.S.C 14301 (1996)batteries.

Occupational Safety and HealthSets permissible exposure levels for mercury in
Actworkplace settings.

29 U.S.C. 651 (1970)

Clean Air ActEstablishes emission limits for selected sources
42 U.S.C. 7401 (1970)of mercury emissions, such as medical waste
and solid waste incinerators, hazardous waste
combustors, and chlor-alkali plants
(chlorine/caustic soda manufacturers).
Emission limits are also required for electric
utilities, but have not yet been established.
Indirect Regulation:
Statutory AuthorityEnvironmental Standards
FFDCAEstablishes an FDA action level for
methylmercury in fish at 1 part per million.
Clean Water ActRequires EPA to issue water quality criteria
that may be used by states, territories, and
tribes as the basis for their own enforceable
water quality standards; if water quality criteria
are exceeded, fish consumption advisories may
be issued by states.

Safe Drinking Water ActSets a maximum contaminant level for mercury

42 U.S.C. 300f (1974)in drinking water at 0.002 mg/l.

RCRAEstablishes land disposal restriction levels for
mercury waste.
Source: Table prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) based on a review of current
environmental regulations and EPA report “Background Information on Mercury Sources and
Regulations, available online at [],
und ated.
Voluntary Activities Initiated or Funded by EPA. In addition to
regulatory requirements, EPA is pursuing a number of voluntary initiatives to reduce
or eliminate the industrial uses of mercury. EPA is also participating in a variety of
outreach programs aimed at educating sectors of the population that either
manufacture or use mercury-containing products. Following is a sample of voluntary
mercury-reduction and educational/outreach activities initiated by EPA:
!EPA identified mercury as one of the persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic (PBT)
chemicals being targeted as a “priority PBT.” As such, EPA has issued a draft
“National Action Plan for Mercury,” aimed at reducing the intentional
introduction of mercury into all environmental media (i.e., air, water, land).7
A draft strategy to monitor PBTs is anticipated by the end of 2003.
!On September 9, 2002, EPA identified 30 “priority chemicals,” including
mercury, that are commonly found in hazardous wastes. EPA is working with
manufacturers to either voluntarily reduce the use of those chemicals by 50%
or to eliminate them from production processes altogether.
!The United States, through EPA, and Canada have been working jointly since

1997 to reduce certain target pollutants, including mercury. In March 2003,

the “Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy 2002” was released to report on
the progress in achieving the pollution reduction goals established under the
joint strategy.8 The U.S. goal of a 50% reduction in national mercury
emissions by 2006 was nearly met at 40%. The U.S. goal of reducing the
national use of mercury by 50% was exceeded.9
!In 1999, with funding from EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office, the
University of Wisconsin Extension’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Education
Center developed a “mercury in schools” educational outreach project. Key
project activities included: creating and maintaining a basin-wide
clearinghouse for information on reducing mercury usage, increasing mercury
recycling and improving mercury management in schools, and educating
students and teachers about eliminating mercury. In 2001, funding was
provided by EPA to extend the mercury in schools education and outreach
program nationwide.

7 The draft plan is accessible online at [].
8 The report is accessible online at [].
9 In setting national goals, the Strategy evaluated total nationwide reduction in the use and
emissions of mercury from all sources. Goals did not set specific reduction percentages for
individual sources.

!On June 24, 1998, EPA and the American Hospital Association (AHA) signed
a memorandum of understanding to advance pollution prevention efforts in
U.S. health care facilities. One goal of the agreement was the virtual
elimination of mercury-containing waste from health care facilities’ waste
streams by 2005. The agreement also led to the creation of Hospitals for a
Healthy Environment whose aim is to educate health care professionals about
pollution prevention opportunities in hospitals and health care systems.10
State Actions to Control Mercury. Due to the method in which mercury
is transported through the environment, it is deposited in some areas of the U.S. in
greater concentrations than others. This makes potential mercury contamination a
local or regional issue. According to EPA’s 1997 Mercury Study Report to
Congress, the following geographical areas were determined to have the highest
annual rate of deposition of mercury:
!The southern Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley;
!The Northeast and southern New England; and
!Scattered areas in the South with the most elevated deposition occurring in the
Miami and Tampa areas.
The potential for regional impacts is one reason many states have enacted their
own legislation aimed at controlling mercury. Recently, several states have moved
beyond the health-based criteria associated with the use or disposal of particular
products. Instead, they are looking to reduce waste disposal problems by restricting
mercury use altogether. For example, Great Lakes states, such as Minnesota, are
banning or limiting the sale of certain mercury-containing products and imposing
recycling requirements and disposal restrictions on others. Table 3 summarizes the
types of legislation enacted in selected states or activities undertaken by state
organizations to control mercury.

10 For more information about Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E), see
[] .

Table 3. Summary of Selected State Actions to Control Mercury
Organization Legislation/Activity
CA, IL, IN,Labeling/Notification Requirements: Mercury-containing products,
MN, NH, NY,such as dental amalgams, pharmaceuticals, thermostats or flourescent
OH, OR, PA,bulbs, must be labeled or notification provided directly to users
VTregarding the mercury content in products, dangers posed by
mercury, and/or safe disposal practices.
CA, CT, IL,Restrictions on Product Sale or Usage: Limits or prohibits the use
IN, IA, ME,or sale of certain products such as dental amalgams, mercury vapor
MD, MI, MN,lighting, fever thermometers, electronic equipment, medical
NH, NY, OR,equipment, mercury switches (particularly in automobiles).
IA, MI, MN,Special Disposal/Recycling Requirements: Directs state agencies or
ORmanufacturers to accept mercury-containing products for recycling,
such as cathode ray tubes or other electronic devices, or to dispose of
mercury-containing products, such as dental amalgams, in an
environmentally appropriate manner.
IA, ME, MNMercury Recovery Requirements: Identifies a responsible party to
recover mercury from a class of products before disposal. For
example, auto makers are being required to remove mercury switches
from automobiles before being scrapped.
InterstateRegional Cooperative Agreement: Environmental agencies in eight
Mercurynortheastern states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New
Education andHampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont )
Reductioncreated the Clearinghouse as an umbrella group to assist the states in
Clearinghouseimplementing mercury reduction laws and programs aimed at getting
mercury out of consumer products, the waste stream, and the
environment. The clearinghouse will coordinate regional mercury
reduction efforts and assist state environmental agencies in
developing and implementing specific legislation and programs for
notification, labeling, collection, and eventual phase-out of products
that contain mercury.
TheCoalition of State Environmental Organizations: The Quicksilver
QuicksilverCaucus is an EPA/state workgroup formed in May 2001 to develop a
Caucusjoint approach to controlling mercury. The Caucus is a forum for
state environmental associations (e.g., the Association of State and
Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials), the Environmental
Council of the States, and the National Governors’ Association to
coordinate their mercury initiatives. EPA is currently working with
the Caucus to resolve two issues: 1) how to meet mercury reduction
goals for specific water bodies where mercury water pollution is
caused primarily by air deposition; and 2) how to ensure safe
stewardship of mercury supplies and wastes. Reports on each topic
are available online at [].
Source: Table prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) based on a review of current
state laws and legislative activity and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control draft
report on mercury, Appendix A-Summary of Nationwide Mercury Efforts.

Recent Legislative Action
A variety of legislative proposals have been introduced in Congress to minimize
or eliminate the use of mercury. Generally, the legislation is aimed at protecting
children from exposure to mercury or at reducing mercury in products or waste.11
Recently introduced legislation related to mercury is summarized below.12
Legislation Aimed at Protecting Children. The Leave No Child Behind
Act of 2003 (H.R. 936 and S. 448) introduced on February 26, 2003, by
Representative George Miller and Senator Christopher Dodd, proposes to amend
Section 313(f) of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act
(EPCRA, 42 U.S.C. 11023(f)). These bills would require the EPA Administrator to
establish reporting thresholds for releases of specific toxic chemicals, including
mercury, that the Administrator determines may present a significant risk to
children’s health or the environment, depending upon the persistent use or existence
of that chemical in the environment.
There has been legislative activity in both the 107th and 108th Congress related
to the use of mercury in childhood vaccines, particularly the presence of the mercury-
containing preservative thimerosal. A provision added to the Homeland Security Act
(P.L. 107-296), which revised the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 300), was
interpreted as protecting vaccine manufacturers from potential financial liability
related to the use of thimerosal. The preservative is added to formulations for13
influenza, diphtheria-tetanus, tetanus, hepatitis B, and rabies. Opponents of the
provision argued that it would effectively end lawsuits for injuries caused to children
after multiple mercury exposures from thimerosal in infant vaccines. On January 10,
2003, Senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Lincoln Chafee announced an
agreement with Senate leadership to address concerns that arose from the addition
of the vaccine-related language. The language in P.L. 107-296 was subsequently
removed in the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution for 2003 (P.L. 108-7).
On March 19, 2003, Representative Dan Burton introduced the National Vaccine
Injury Compensation Program Improvement Act of 2003 (H.R. 1349). The bill would
amend the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 300) with respect to the National
Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), by extending the statute of

11 Legislative activity regarding air emissions is discussed in CRS Report RL31881.
12 Several bills introduced in the 107th Congress have not been reintroduced in the 108th.
The bills dealt with mercury storage and disposal, and the reevaluation of safe levels of
mercury in seafood. Those bills were the Mercury Storage and Safe Disposal Act of 2001
(H.R. 2266), The Seafood Safety and Mercury Screening Act of 2002 (H.R. 3885) and the
Mercury-Safe Seafood Act of 2001 (S. 555).
13 The amount of mercury in an individual vaccine is small. However, the FDA announced
in June 1999 that infants given multiple thimerosal-preserved vaccines were exposed to
mercury levels that exceeded EPA safety guidelines. The FDA, National Institutes of Health
(NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Academy of
Pediatrics have urged vaccine manufacturers to reduce or eliminate thimerosal in vaccines
as soon as possible (no deadline has been specified). For more information, see the FDA’s,
report “Thimerosal in Vaccines,” at [].

limitations on filing claims for vaccine-related injuries, and increasing the base
amount of funding available to those injured. While the bill does not refer to
concerns about thimerosal specifically, Representative Burton has discussed, in
hearings and publications, the connection between the exposure to the mercury-
containing preservative and neurological developmental disorders of autism, and
speech and language delays.14
Legislation Aimed at Reducing Mercury in Products or Waste. The
Omnibus Mercury Emissions Reduction Act (S. 484), introduced on February 27,
2003 by Senators Patrick Leahy and Olympia Snowe, proposes to amend Section
3002 of the Solid Waste Disposal Act (42 U.S.C. 6922). The bill intends to reduce
releases of mercury from all major sources of air emissions, including solid waste
incinerators. To does so, the bill requires the EPA Administrator to identify mercury-
containing materials that must be separated from the waste stream before
incineration. The list must include mercury-containing items such as fluorescent
light bulbs and tubes, batteries, pharmaceuticals, laboratory chemicals and reagents,
electrical devices such as thermostats, relays and switches, and medical and scientific
instruments. To facilitate separation, the bill requires mercury-containing materials
to be labeled to indicate mercury content. Further, the bill requires the phase-out of
mercury in consumer products within three years, allowing for the possibility of
exceptions for essential uses. The legislation also includes a provision prohibiting
the Defense Department from selling mercury currently in the National Defense
The Mercury Reduction Act of 2003 (S. 616), introduced on March 13, 2003 by
Senator Susan Collins, proposes to amend the Solid Waste Disposal Act. The bill
calls for a nationwide ban on the sale of mercury fever thermometers. It would also
provide grants for exchange programs to help consumers exchange mercury
thermometers for digital thermometers. The bill directs EPA to ensure that the
mercury is properly collected and stored, as opposed to recycled and reintroduced in
commerce, in order to keep it out of the environment. The bill would also create a
multi-agency “Task Force on Mercury” to address the issue of long-term
management of surplus mercury from such sources as thermometers, stores held by
the Departments of Defense and Energy, and other medical, commercial or industrial
sources. The bill was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee by voice vote on April 9, 2003. Similar legislation (S. 351) was passed
by the Senate in the 107th Congress, but was not considered by the House.
The Next Generation Lighting Initiative (S. 167), introduced on January 15,
2003 by Senator Jeff Bingaman, has the objective of developing, by 2012, “advanced
solid-state lighting technologies” based on white-light-emitting diodes. Such lighting
would be required to meet certain illumination criteria and not contain harmful
pollutants, such as mercury, found in current lighting products (e.g., fluorescent
lamps). Research to develop lighting that meets the bill’s objectives would be carried
out by a consortium of private firms, trade associations and institutions of higher
education chosen by the Secretary of Energy. A similar component is in the Energy

14 See Representative Burton’s “Dear Colleague” letter regarding “facts and fiction about
thimerosal in vaccines,” printed on the Autism Society of Washington web page at
[ h t t p : / / www.a u t i s ms oc i e t yof wa .or g/ Ne ws / Congr e s s .ht m] .

Policy Act of 2003 (H.R. 6), as passed by the House on April 11, 2003. While the
bill deals with a broad range of energy-related issues, Part 2, Section 21111 proposes
the same “next generation lighting” requirements as those delineated in S. 167.
The Mercury in Dental Filling Disclosure and Prohibition Act (H.R.1680),
introduced on April 8, 2003, by Representative Diane Watson, would amend Section
501 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 351). The bill proposes
to prohibit the introduction into interstate commerce of mercury intended for use in
dental fillings after January 1, 2008. Effective December 31, 2004, the bill also
would require mercury-containing dental amalgams to be labeled with information
regarding the health effects related to mercury.
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can be harmful both to humans and the
environment. The primary route by which humans are exposed to mercury is from
eating fish contaminated with methylmercury. Humans may also be exposed to
elemental mercury vapor in either the workplace or through the use of mercury-
containing consumer products (e.g. in dental amalgams or broken flourescent bulbs
or fever thermometers). Once mercury is introduced into the environment, it cannot
be removed. However, it can transform into more toxic forms, such as
methylmercury, particularly when it is introduced into the environment through
anthropogenic means.
Both federal and state authorities have taken action to control the introduction
of mercury into the environment that originates from the use of mercury in products
and manufacturing processes. The current trend, in many federal and state legislative
actions, is to reduce mercury releases by eliminating it altogether, either from its use
in manufacturing processes or as an added component to products. Many states have
passed such legislation; few federal initiatives have been enacted into law.