Mercury in the Environment

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In this environmental science lesson, learners will examine the dangers of mercury and how humans contribute to growing mercury emissions on Earth. First, learners watch a NewsHour video segment about EPA regulations on the emissions of mercury by coal-fire power plants and then read an article about mercury pollution of aquatic ecosystems. Next, learners use beads to simulate "coal atoms" and calculate the percent-by-mass of contaminating elements in coal. Finally, learners view an analogous demonstration of how mercury is detected in a lab sample. [Activity is publicly available through a web crawler capture on]

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 14 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Demonstration, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Simulation


Materials List (per group of students)


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Rocks and Minerals
      • Atmosphere
    • Earth's History
  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Animals
    • Ecology
      • Ecosystems
      • Human Impact
    • Human Body
      • Health and Nutrition
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Environmental Engineering
    • Technology
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Atomic Structure
      • Elements and Periodic Table
      • Mass and Weight
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
    • Number and Operations
    • Reasoning and Proof
    • Representation
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and the Environment
  • The Nature of Science
    • Science and Society
      • Risks and Benefits
      • Public Policy
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results

Informal Categories

  • Animals
  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Uses STEM to solve real-world problems
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • McGraw, Jason


  • All rights reserved, MacNeil-Lehrer Productions, 2011