Mercury is a chemical element which is not biodegradable but accumulates in soil, water and living organisms. Mercury is harmful to both the environment and human health. It reaches the environment in the form of burning carbon but can also do so through smelting works, crematories, rubbish tips and sewage sludge. Mercury is banned in almost all products in Sweden. There are exceptions in the form of items such as low-energy lights, amalgam in dental materials, medical products and rechargeable batteries.
End-of-life articles containing mercury are environmentally hazardous waste. If a low-energy light bulb or an old thermometer breaks, do not use a vacuum cleaner to clean up the pieces because there is a risk that the vacuum cleaner will distribute the particles of mercury in the air. Gather up the pieces with a stiff piece of paper, for example, and clean the surrounding surfaces with a damp cloth. Put the paper, the pieces of the light bulb, or thermometer and the cloth into a container that you can seal with a tight-fitting lid. Mark the container to make it clear that it may contain mercury, and hand it in to an environmental recycling station. Wash your hands and air the room at 20–30 minute intervals as a precaution.
Exposure to low concentrations of mercury on the odd occasion is not expected to have any negative impact on health but, since mercury accumulates in the body, all exposure should be avoided for precautionary reasons. Long-term exposure to low concentrations of mercury affects primarily the nervous system and the brain.