For many people, when they hear "mercury," they immediately think of the old-fashioned thermometers that you had to be careful not to break. But modern production of electronics and industrial chemicals rely on the metal, making it just as, if not more, valuable today than it was decades ago. Yes, it is still used in thermometers, but it is also instrumental in manufacturing certain types of batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, and ingredients needed to produce several vaccines. The average price of mercury has decreased over the last decade, although in 2018, a flask of mercury in the European Union was valued at about $1,100 USD.
Even though mercury is incredibly useful, it is best known for being dangerous and toxic. While it is possible to come into contact with it when products break, it is much more likely to be ingested through seafood. With growing awareness of the dangers of ingesting toxins, more people in the US seek to avoid mercury. Between 2010 and 2021, the volume of mercury imported by the US for consumption dropped from 294 metric tons to just 2 metric tons.
China is the top producer of mercury. In 2022, its mines produced 2,000 metric tons of mercury. As China is known for their manufacturing, it makes sense that they would also work to produce the raw materials needed, since limiting the shipping of raw materials will ultimately lower the cost of production and increase profits. Mining coal, metal, and minerals is incredibly profitable for China. It has over 1500 mining operations, and this industry is incredibly important to the country's economy. Still, it is shocking to see how much more mercury China mines compared to the rest of the world. The second-largest producer, Tajikistan, only produced about 120 metric tons of mercury. That is equal to 6% of the volume mined by China.