Mercury occurs naturally in the environment as well as through industrial and man-made pollution; however, human-caused sources of mercury far outweigh natural sources of mercury. Mercury-laden products which are thrown in the garbage or washed down sinks and drains end up in landfills, incinerators, or sewage treatment facilities. Mercury from these products enter into the ground and groundwater. Mercury may be directly released into the environment, where it is released in fine particles in the air that fall to the earth in rain droplets or snowflakes. Once this happens, mercury eventually ends up in the water, settled into sediments. Fish begin to consume this mercury, and the amount of mercury builds in species as they go up the food chain (a process called biomagnification). Predatory fish (higher up on the food chain/long-lived), can accumulate hundreds of thousands to millions of times the concentration of mercury that originally entered the water. People then eat mercury-tainted fish, and the mercury is transferred to humans and builds up in the body.
Natural causes of mercury include: volcanic activity, geothermal systems, erosion of mineral deposits, and mercury-enriched soils.
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