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All about mercury (Download pdf)

Alternatives are available

Substitution of products containing mercury
Elemental mercury: Intentional usage of mercury has to be stopped as soon as possible. There are economically viable non-mercury containing substitutes for almost all current applications where mercury is used.

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Who says we can't without mercury?

Mercury compounds: The Minamata disaster was caused by a mercury compound – mercuric chloride – which was released with the effluent from a company producing fertilisers, petrochemicals and plastics. In India, unusually high levels of mercury have been detected in groundwater not only near chlor-alkali units (where elemental mercury is used) but also near industries manufacturing or using dyes, paints, pigments, chemicals (such as H-acid, sulphonic acid and vinyl sulphone), pesticides and herbicides, pharmaceuticals and plastics. It is obvious that these industries still use mercury compounds even though most developed countries have stopped using them.

The government should immediately ban or restrict, through disincentives like high taxes and import duties, the usage of elemental mercury and mercury compounds and provide incentives (lower or zero taxes or import duties) for mercury alternatives.

Alternatives to mercury uses
Product or application Available alternatives Cost effectiveness
Mercury cell process in chlor-alkali industry Membrane technology Mercury cell process in Higher investment costs for conversion but lower operational, waste treatment and disposal costs
Mercury used in dental amalgam Gold, silver, ceramic, porcelain, polymers, composites,   glass ionomers amalgam fillings While some are less expensive and easy to apply, others are more expensive and difficult to apply
Mercury based batteries Virtually mercury-free batteries are available Cost of mercury-free batteries may be higher or about the same but their usage is preferable to costly cleaning of mercury contaminated wastes
Laboratory use It is possible to restrict mercury use in school or university laboratories to a few controllable uses The alternatives are generally no more expensive
Thermometers Other liquids, gas, electric and electronic sensors More expensive but one electronic thermometer may replace several broken mercury ones
Pressure measuring and  control equipment 


In pressure gauges, switches and transmitters, mercury can be substituted using flexible membrane,piezoelectric crystals and fibre-optic pressure sensorsIn barometers and manometers, mercury can be replaced by other liquids or gases Electrical and electronic instruments are slightly more expensive but alternatives based on gas, other liquids or mechanical spring showno significant price difference
Tilt switch Mechanical or micro switch
Electronic switch Solid state and optical switch No significant price differences
Reed switch Solid state and electro-optical switch, semi-conductor
Proximity sensor/switch Inductive, capacitive, photo-electric sensor, ultrasonic
Artisanal gold extraction
Pesticides and biocides
Non-mercury electrolytic process, Minataur processProcesses not requiring chemical chemical pesticidesand biocides or use easily degradable substances Not more expensive Cost is roughly comparable and environmental benefits are considerable
Energy-efficient lamps Currently there are no mercury-free efficient alternatives to the energy-efficient lamps
Source: Global Mercury Assessment, UNEP Chemicals, December 5, 2002


Replacing mercury-containing chemicals
Chemicals containing
Mercury (II) Oxide Copper catalyst, Sodium Iodate
Mercury Chloride None identified
Mercury (II) Chloride Magnesium Chloride/Sulfuric Acid or Zinc Formalin, Freeze drying
Mercury (II) Sulfate Silver Nitrate / Potassium Sulfate / Chromium-(III) Sulfate
Mercury Nitrate (for corrosion of copper alloys) for antifungal use (mercurochrome) Ammonia/Copper Sulfate
Neosporin, Mycin
Mercury Iodide Phenate method
Sulfuric Acid (commercial grade; mercury as impurity) Sulfuric acid from a cleaner source
Zenker’s solution Zinc Formalin
Source: Draft Wisconsin Mercury Sourcebook, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (USEPA grant), May 1997


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