Mercury is one of the most toxic metals to us. Even though we have been mining and using mercury for hundreds of years, it creates a significant risk to the global environment and human health. Mercury present in water bodies; lakes and rivers are considered the biggest risk, as the toxic form; methylmercury, is consumed by animals which eventually makes its way to humans. This is the main way that we are exposed to mercury.
Mercury in a water body converts to methylmercury. In the ocean, it can last for up to 30 years, but the deeper it goes, that timeframe can increase up to centuries. It is estimated that up to 350,000 tonnes of mercury are stored in oceans worldwide, which is 60 times more than the total amount stored in the atmosphere .
However, the disassembly of flat panels displays can also lead to mercury exposure in processes such as shredding and manual disassembly. If the mercury vapours amalgamate to the recycled materials or the recycling equipment itself, then the mercury degrades the material and pollutes the surrounding environment . In the case of manual disassembly, personnel have the risk of mercury exposure due to the possibility of treating LCD TVs with broken CCFLs inside. The CCFLs could break during transportation, preparation before disassembly and during disassembly. FPD Recycling’s flagship product the FPD Pro™ addresses the issue of mercury exposure, as it is a fully enclosed robotic system. It is operated externally by a worker where they will not be exposed to any hazardous material.
So what exactly is mercury?
Mercury (Hg) is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature. Normally people think of mercury in its silver liquid form. In nature, it is found in compounds such as cinnabar, a red mineral that also contains Sulphur . This compound is mined to produce elemental mercury. It is not considered to be a significant environmental risk as the mercury content is not freely distributed into the environment or atmosphere.
Mercury in the Body
The impact that mercury can cause in a human body is dependent on the concentration of mercury consumed. Mercury mainly affects the brain, the nervous system, kidneys and lungs. Methylmercury is 10 times more effective crossing the blood-placenta barrier than any other form of mercury and can affect the development of embryos. Other impacts on the body include vision and hearing problems, impaired motor skills and impacts on memory and language development.
Recent studies have also shown that, in older adults, mercury exposure increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (Karagas et al., 2012) and blood pressure problems (Genchi et al., 2017).
In 2015, 21 workers in Korea worked in the demolition of a fluorescent lamp factory where 18 out of the 21 workers had symptoms of mercury poisoning. 10 of these workers continued to have persistent symptoms after 18 months of initially being exposed to mercury vapour. These workers were exposed to significant amounts of mercury vapour in the underground space. There was no preliminary evaluation of the worksite or volumes of mercury present taken during the demolition stages. Some early symptoms recorded were skin rash, sleep disturbance, fatigue, headache, tooth and gum symptoms, urinary symptoms and many more. The report discusses worker B who after 9 months from exposure of mercury, developed multiple cysts and hyperpigmentation on his face. He also had persisting pain in his arms, bad dreams and felt extreme anxiety and suffocation in certain settings .
This is just one example of the extremities of mercury exposure and how it can impact your body. Protecting workers from environments such as this should be a top priority of all companies. FPD Recycling can provide this safe enclosed environment where workers will not be exposed to any harmful materials.Today, the IED requires industries to take action and reduce emissions of harmful pollutants which include mercury. Restrictions have been applied to emission limits and over the next 30 years, the reduction of coal used to generate power will also decrease. This will decrease greenhouse gas and the levels of mercury emissions.
What can we as individuals do?
We can be aware of mercury in our lives, for example:
Population Exposure Mercury
• Diets to pay attention to levels of mercury in fish especially, pregnant women and children.
• Disposing and handling light bulbs and fluorescent lamps carefully to prevent any breakages.
• Avoid the use of fuels containing mercury: coal, wood
• Ask about non-mercury fillings in the dentist when available
• Support actions that seek to minimize climate change and reduce levels of greenhouse gas emissions and mercury exposure.
Cryan, J., Freegard, K., Morrish, L., Myles N. (2009) Demonstration of Flat panel display recycling technologies, WRAP Final project report, Project code MDD014
European Environment Agency (2018) Mercury in Europe’s Environment, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
 Elo, K. & Sundin, E. (2013) Evaporation of Mercury from CCFLs during Recycling of LCD Television Sets, Sweeden: Linkoping University, available: http://liu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:680230/FULLTEXT01.pdf
 Yoon Do, S., Gab Lee, c. Yoon Kim, J., Hoon Moon, Y., Sung Kim, M., Ho Bae, I., & Soo Song, H. (2017) Cases of Acute Mercury Vapor Exposure during the Demolition of a Fluorescent Lamp Factory, Annals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine available: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1186%2Fs40557-017-0184-x.pdf