The report cites a handful of religious mercury use studies in Chicago and New York, including a 2008 study that found mercury levels were higher in residential common areas in communities likely to use mercury for cultural practices. However, Wendroff said that further studies are needed to determine mercury levels in the practitioners' homes.
"We have mercury sold, we know how it's being used and we have indoor air elevated levels of mercury," Wendroff said.
Nevertheless, he said, "since there could be a lot of money involved to clean this up, the government's stance is to let sleeping dogs lie."
The EPA's Office of Inspector General disagrees, maintaining in a 2006 report that the environmental agency is properly addressing the risks of ritual mercury use by sponsoring research and environmental monitoring, among other things.
To reduce mercury exposures, the ATSDR recommends increasing education on mercury's health effects and proper clean-up methods, especially when sales of mercury-containing compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are lighting up.
"Given the potential cumulative hazard from breaking a large number of CFLs, or the disposal of large numbers of CFLs in landfills, the public must learn about the need for proper disposal and have easy access to appropriate disposal facilities," the report says.
Though there is no data on exposure incidents from light bulbs, the EPA estimates that more than 670 million mercury-containing bulbs are discarded each year. Currently, there is no national infrastructure for recycling them.
The authors also recommended decreasing the availability of mercury items altogether. Several states have implemented bans on mercury thermometers. In addition, the Mercury Ban Export Act of 2008 aims to prohibit U.S. exports of elemental mercury by 2013.
"The long term goal is to get mercury out of all consumer products," said Ned Groth, a science consultant at the Mercury Policy Project, an advocacy organization. "Mercury is an equal opportunity poison. It's toxic to everybody."
Tina Toy, whose two daughters attended the contaminated day care center in New Jersey, hopes that the new federal report will help keep awareness of the issue alive.
"I worry about my children's health every day, but at least something good is going to come out of this," she said.
The ATSDR report [PDF] is available here.
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.