Mercury is a naturally occurring element found in rocks, soil, water and living things. It has also been used historically in some consumer products. The longer and more often you are exposed to mercury, the greater the health risk.

Exposure and Health Effects

Fish and Shellfish

Mercury can deposit in lakes, rivers and oceans and build up in the fish we eat. Larger fish and fish that eat other fish have higher concentrations of mercury in their tissue.

Fish can be part of a healthy diet. Most people can eat fish without being concerned about exposure to mercury. However, young children and fetuses who are exposed to high levels of mercury are at risk of developing learning problems. Pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under age 6 should choose fish lower in mercury and limit their portion sizes.

See Eat Fish, Choose Wisely (PDF)
Other Languages: Español | 中文 | 한국어 | 日本語

Metallic Mercury

Metallic mercury used to be common in household products and manufacturing. Its use has decreased in response to laws prohibiting or limiting mercury. Mercury may still be found in some products, especially older items and products made outside the United States.

Metallic mercury is in older thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, fluorescent light bulbs and electrical switches. Metallic mercury is also used in dental amalgams.

Some cultural practices may use metallic mercury.

When products are broken or spilled or when engaging in practices that use metallic mercury for cultural or religious purposes, metallic mercury can become a vapor. Breathing in low levels of mercury over a long period of time, or exposure to high levels of mercury vapors can cause:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Skin rashes
  • Memory loss
  • Moodiness
  • Shaking

Mercury Compounds

Certain dietary supplements, skin-lightening creams and soaps contain mercury. People are exposed to mercury in these products if they swallow or apply them to their skin. Mercury in this form can cause memory problems, skin rash and damage to the nervous system and kidneys.

Avoid Exposure

Avoid using items that contain mercury. Do not use creams, soaps and dietary supplements with mercury. Pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children should choose fish wisely and eat fewer or smaller portions.

Appropriately dispose of mercury containing products, such as older thermometers, burned out fluorescent light bulbs, creams and dietary supplements that contain mercury. Do not throw these products in the trash. Seal the product in a plastic bag or plastic container until they can be disposed of properly at an NYC Department of Sanitation SAFE Disposal event or Special Waste Drop-off location. Keep such products in a location out of reach of children.

Quickly respond to spills resulting from broken metallic mercury containing items by using our tips on Cleaning Up Mercury Spills in the Home (PDF).

If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to mercury, call the Poison Control Center at 212-POISONS (212-764-7667) or ask your doctor if you need to be tested. If you do not have a doctor, call 311.

Additional Resources

More Information