Mercury in waste in the European Union: Sources, disposal methods and risks

Arun B. Mukherjee*, Ron Zevenhoven, Jens Brodersen, Lars D. Hylander, Prosun Bhattacharya

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

110 Citations (Scopus)


Over the recent decades, there has been widespread concern regarding the toxic impact of mercury (Hg) in the ecosystem due to its mobility, volatility and potential for bioaccumulation. Hg in fish and the aquatic environment is also a great problem in the Nordic region of the EUEU means EU-15, i.e. the 15 member countries at the time of writing this paper (early 2003).1 (European Union). Hg is classified as a dangerous chemical in the countries of the EU. Hg in the regulation of waste is regarded as a dangerous substance which, when contained in waste, is one of the properties, leading to a classification of waste as hazardous. Estimation of the quantity of Hg in waste within the EU countries is an important task although still incomplete. In this present study, Hg in waste in the EU has been estimated at around 990 metric tonnes (t) (including coal combustion products, landfills, chlor-alkali waste and incinerator slag) for the year 1995, and it is suggested that if complete information was available for the 15 member states, the amount would be 2-4 times larger. During the 1990s there were 45 Hg cell chlorine facilities in the EU and the amount of Hg in chlorine (Cl2) was calculated at 95.2 t based on 14-17 g Hg t-1 of Cl2 capacity. The waste from coal-fired power plants in the EU member states contained about 16.5 t of Hg, which was transferred to products for road construction, and other industrial uses or stored in landfills. This Hg can then be exchanged between the atmospheric, aquatic and terrestrial compartments. Hg is occasionally recovered from waste, but this is often discouraged for economic reasons. Recovery units are found, for example, in Germany, France, Austria, and Sweden. The total amount of secondary Hg recovered from waste is not known. Metallic Hg and Hg-bearing waste are exported and imported from the EU member states, except for export from Sweden, which is banned by national legislation. The use of Hg in lamps and batteries is declining, and the Nordic countries, Germany and Austria have stringent regulations on the use of amalgam and Hg thermometers. It is found that 18% of municipal solid waste generated in the EU is burnt in incinerators, in order to decrease the volume. 88 t of Hg enter into the landfills of the EU through waste and residues from waste incineration. Prevention of the generation of hazardous waste containing Hg is one of the most challenging tasks for the EU, with regard to sustainable waste management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-182
Number of pages28
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2004
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • European Union
  • Hazardous waste
  • Mercury
  • Risk assessment


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