IMERC Fact Sheet
Mercury Use in Batteries
Last Update: January 2010
"Mercury Use in Batteries" summarizes the use of mercury in batteries. This Fact Sheet covers all the types of batteries that contain mercury, including button-cell batteries; the total amount of mercury in all of the batteries that were sold as new in the U.S. in 2001, 2004, and 2007; and companies that have phased-out the products' manufacture and sale.
The information in this Fact Sheet is based on data submitted to the state members of the Interstate Mercury Education and Reduction Clearinghouse (IMERC)1 including Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The data is available online through the IMERC Mercury-Added Products Database.2
A number of important caveats must be considered when reviewing the data summarized in this Fact Sheet:
Types of Mercury Batteries
There are a variety of button-cell batteries that contain mercury, including zinc air, silver oxide, and alkaline manganese oxide batteries. Button-cell batteries are small, thin, energy cells that are not rechargeable. They are most commonly used in watches, toys, hearing aids, and other small and portable electronic devices. The manufacturing of small electronic devices is often possible due to the small size of the button-cell batteries.
Gas can form in all of these types of batteries due to the corrosion of zinc. Zinc in the battery gets corroded into the electrolyte as the battery is used. This corrosion can cause electrolysis and can cause the generation of hydrogen gas in the canister. Build-up of hydrogen gas can cause the battery to leak, limiting the ability of the battery to function. Mercury suppresses this zinc corrosion, which is why it is added to button-cell batteries. These batteries may contain mercury in the insulating paper surrounding the battery, or mercury may be mixed in the anode itself. All of these different button-cell batteries can contain up to 0.005 grams of mercury.
Mercuric Oxide batteries contain mercury as the electrode and are useful in applications that require a high energy density and a flat voltage curve. In the past, mercuric oxide button-cell batteries were used in hearing aids, watches, calculators, electronic cameras, and other personal electronic items requiring a small battery. However, mercuric oxide button-cell batteries were banned in 1996 in accordance with the "Mercury Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act" and are no longer sold in the U.S.3 Larger mercuric oxide batteries may still be used in such applications as military, medical, and industrial equipment. The IMERC-member states have not received any Notification Forms for mercuric oxide batteries.
Other batteries, such as AAA, AA, C, and D alkaline; atomic; and lithium-ion batteries, do not contain mercury.
Mercury Use in Batteries
Table 1 presents the total amount of mercury contained in mercury batteries sold in the U.S. in years 2001, 2004, and 2007.4
In 2001, the companies reporting to IMERC-member states sold approximately 2.8 tons (5,585 pounds) of mercury in batteries, which decreased by 0.3 tons to 2.5 tons (4,948 pounds) in 2004. This represents a decline of approximately 11 percent from 2001 to 2004. The total amount of mercury in batteries decreased an additional 0.4 tons, to 2.1 tons (4,132 pounds) in 2007. This represents a decline of approximately 16 percent from 2004 to 2007, or a decline of approximately 25 percent since 2001.
Since 2001, many states have passed legislation restricting the sale of mercury button-cell batteries and/or products that contain these batteries, such as toys and other novelty items. As more state laws go into effect, mercury use in this product category will likely continue to decline.
Phase-Outs & Product Bans on the Sale of Mercury Batteries
As stated above, mercuric oxide button-cell batteries are no longer sold in the U.S. for personal use in accordance with the Mercury Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act of 1996. Research indicates that larger mercuric oxide batteries may still be used in limited applications (i.e., military, medical, and industrial). Federal law (and some state laws, including Maine) allows these mercuric oxide batteries to continue to be sold but only if the manufacturer has established a system to collect waste batteries and ensure that the mercury is properly managed. To date, the IMERC-member states have not received any Notifications for mercuric oxide batteries.
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) is a trade association that represents the principal U.S.-based manufacturers of mercury-added button-cell batteries, including Duracell, Energizer, Kodak, Panasonic, and Rayovac. These U.S. battery manufacturers have voluntarily committed to eliminating mercury in button-cell batteries by 2011.5 A few states, including Connecticut and Maine, have enacted legislation mandating a ban on the sale of mercury-added button batteries by June 30, 2011.6
In response to the upcoming mercury product bans and phase-outs, many companies have ceased manufacturing mercury button-cell batteries and/or stopped selling products in which mercury button-cell batteries are a component.
The following is a list of companies and button-cell battery products that have reportedly been eliminated from the U.S. market since 2001:
Radica China Ltd. reported to IMERC-member states that they phased-out the manufacture of their toys and key chains that contained mercury-added button-cell batteries by June 30, 2003.
Little Tikes Company reported to IMERC-member states that they phased-out the manufacture of mercury-added button-cell batteries in some of their toys (e.g., toy remote keyless entry modules and toy golf clubs) during calendar years 2003 and 2004.
Mary Meyer reported to IMERC-member states that they phased-out the manufacture of their toys (e.g., Easy Ride'Um horse) containing mercury-added button-cell batteries in May 2004.
K'NEX Industries, Inc. reported to IMERC-member states that they phased-out the manufacture of their toys containing mercury-added button-cell batteries in 2004.
3M Office Supplies reported to IMERC-member states that they phased-out the manufacture of watches containing mercury-added button-cell batteries following a special promotion in 2004. These watches were not manufactured or sold in the 2001 or 2007 reporting years and will not be available for sale in the future.
Processed Plastic reported to IMERC-member states that they went out of business in June 2005, completing all product shipments by mid-July 2005. Their toys containing mercury-added button-cell batteries are no longer manufactured or sold in the U.S.
Protective Technologies International, Inc. reported to IMERC-member states that they phased-out the manufacture of their bicycle computers that contained mercury-added button-cell batteries in 2008.
Some of the large battery manufacturers, including Sony Corporation, New Leader, and Energizer, manufacture non-mercury zinc air, silver oxide, and/or alkaline manganese button-cell batteries. However, many of these models are more expensive than the mercury counterparts and may not be commercially available in the U.S.
Lithium button-cell batteries and non-miniature cylindrical alkaline batteries do not contain mercury. These may be a suitable alternative to mercury-containing button-cell batteries, depending on the end product and its power needs.
For more information on non-mercury alternatives for button-cell batteries, see: http://sustainableproduction.org/downloads/MaineDEPButtonBatteryReportFinal12-17-04.pdf [PDF]
1 IMERC: http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/imerc/about.cfm
2 Mercury-Added Products Database: http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/imerc/notification/index.cfm
3 Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/civil/ba
4 The data cited in this report is from a NEWMOA PowerPoint Presentation entitled, Trends in Mercury Use in Products: Analysis of the IMERC Mercury-added Products Database, presented at the "2009 Mercury Science & Policy Conference with a Special Focus on the Great Lakes & Northeast Regions", on November 17, 2009: http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/conferences/sciandpolicy/presentations/Wienert_Session3B.pdf
5 NEMA Announces Battery Industry Commitment to Eliminating Mercury in Button Cells: http://www.nema.org/media/pr/20060302a.cfm
6 State Mercury-Added Product Ban & Phase-out Guidance: http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/imerc/banphaseout.cfm