Mercury and the Minamata Convention on Mercury


Carpet Mercury








Video courtesy of Bowling Green State University

Properties of Mercury

Elemental mercury (Hg) is a heavy, silvery metal that is liquid at room temperature. Mercury has the highest volatility of any metal, forming a colorless, odorless gas.  The liquid droplet is very mobile and combines with other metals such as tin, copper, gold, and silver to form alloys (solid solutions called amalgams).

Mercury is not biodegradable and persists in the environment. When released into the air, it cycles between the air, more

Mercury Vapor

When mercury is spilled, it can break into very small droplets. These tiny droplets release invisible mercury vapor (see video on the right) at a rate faster than typical room ventilation can safely dilute. The vaporization rate of elemental mercury approximately doubles with every temperature increase of 10°C. Air that is saturated with mercury vapor at 25°C is a thousand times higher than the occupational exposure limit of 0.02 mg of mercury vapor per more

Heath Effects of Mercury

The toxic effects of mercury are well known.  Mercury vapor affects the central and peripheral nervous systems, lungs, kidneys, skin, and eyes. It also affects the immune system and is mutagenic. Acute exposure to high concentrations of mercury vapor causes severe respiratory damage, while chronic exposure to lower levels is primarily associated with central nervous system disorder, behavioral changes, and effects on the peripheral nervous more

Mercury in Health Care

In a healthcare facility, mercury can be found in mercury-containing thermometers, sphygmomanometers, esophageal dilators, Cantor tubes, Miller-Abbott tubes, dental amalgam, batteries, UV lamps, fluorescent lamps, electrical switches, and in some laboratory solutions such as B5 and Zenkers fixatives and Thimerosal preservatives. Non-mercury alternatives can be found for many of these, including digital thermometers, aneroid sphygmomanometers, more

Minamata Convention on Mercury

The Minamata Convention on Mercury  is an international treaty to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic releases of mercury and mercury compounds. The treaty was signed in Kumamoto, Japan in October 2013. Parties agreed to control and, where feasible, reduce the emissions of mercury to the atmosphere from sources such as coal-fired power plants, non-ferrous metal smelters, and waste incinerators. Parties more

Resources on Mercury


The UNDP GEF Project on Global Healthcare Waste developed or helped develop the following resources on mercury:


  • Method of Measuring Mercury Levels in Ambient Air in Healthcare Facilities: A sample methodology to survey mercury concentrations in ambient air inside healthcare facilities.


  • Technical Specifications for Mercury Vapor Analyzers: Technical specifications that could be used to procure portable analyzers for measuring mercury vapor in ambient air.


  • Notes on Selecting Mercury Reduction Activities in Healthcare Facilities: Notes on options for mercury reduction such as replacing mercury thermometers and sphygmomanometers, dental amalgam, mercury-containing solutions, gastrointestinal tubes, electrical switches, and fluorescent lamps. An approach for prioritizing mercury reduction activities is presented.


  • Guidance on Clean-Up, Transport and Interim Storage of Mercury from Healthcare Facilities: Basic information on mercury, detailed procedures for the clean-up of small mercury spills, requirements for temporary on-site storage of mercury waste at a healthcare facility, and considerations in relation to packaging, labeling, off-site transport, and intermediate-term storage at a central facility. Appendices include first-aid notes, a material safety data sheet and international chemical safety card on mercury.




  • Comparative Evaluation of Non-Mercury Thermometers: Study by the UNDP GEF Project in Lebanon, Ministry of Environment, Nabatieh Government Hospital, and American University of Beirut. A vendor survey, costing model, and evaluation of accuracy were used to compare non-mercury thermometers in Lebanon.


  • Replacement of mercury thermometers and sphygmomanometers in health care: WHO technical guidance that discusses available alternatives to mercury thermometers and sphygmomanometers, accuracy, costs, and technical specifications under international standards. Developed with technical support of the UNDP GEF Project and based in part on an earlier UNDP GEF Project guidance document.