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What Is a Mercury Battery?

After their introduction in the 1940s, mercury batteries were used in devices such as radios.
Mercury batteries.
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  • Written By: R. Anacan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2014
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A mercury battery is a cell that stores and provides energy for a wide range of applications. Mercury batteries achieved a high degree of popularity due to their large storage capacity, long shelf life and stable voltage output. These batteries were commonly used in devices such as cameras and radios from their introduction in the 1940s through the mid 1990s when many nations chose to ban or limit the production of mercury batteries. Batteries containing small amounts of mercury are still manufactured for use in watches, hearing aids, and calculators today.

A battery creates power through the conversion of chemical energy to electrical energy. Different types of batteries use different materials to create electrons. A mercury battery generally uses a form of mercury known as mercuric oxide. Mercuric oxide is the positive component, or cathode, of the battery and reacts with a negative anode, or negative component, that typically consists of zinc.

When a connection is made between a battery’s positive and negative terminals, a chemical reaction produces electrons. In a mercury battery, the chemical reaction that is formed between mercuric-oxide and zinc produces electrons. As the electrons flow from the negative terminal to the positive terminal of a battery, electricity is created. The created electricity then flows to the device that is connected to the battery, providing power to the device.

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Mercury batteries may not be as widely available today as many nations have outlawed or greatly limited their production and use. Mercury is a toxic chemical that can affect and damage parts of the body such as the brain, nervous system and gastrointestinal tract of those who are exposed to it. Some forms of mercury are caustic and may cause damage to human and animal tissue if come into contact with.

Even in areas where the use and production of mercury batteries are limited and regulated, mercury may still be found in button-cell batteries. Button-cell batteries are circular-shaped batteries that are commonly used in devices such as hearing aids, watches, calculators, and cameras. As long as it is used properly, a button-cell mercury battery is safe to handle and use.

However, it is important that batteries containing mercury are disposed of properly and are not used for anything other than a battery’s intended purposes. Many municipalities have mercury battery collection and disposal programs to ensure that mercury batteries are disposed of in a safe manner. Batteries that are not properly disposed of can lead to the release of mercury into the environment, which can cause harm to the surrounding eco-system and groundwater supplies.

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