Note: Report all spills by calling EH&S at ext. 860-439-2252, or after hours, Campus Safety at ext. 2222.
Mercury is a metal that occurs naturally in the environment in several forms. The most common form, metallic or elemental mercury, is a silvery, odorless heavy metal that is liquid at room temperature, and is the form commonly found in household thermometers. Elemental mercury can evaporate at room temperature to form a vapor. Mercury can escape to the environment when items containing mercury are broken or improperly discarded.
Mercury is toxic by inhalation, absorption through the skin and ingestion.
Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic or organic mercury can damage the nervous system and kidneys. Studies have shown that people who ate fish and grain which contained large amounts of methyl mercury had permanent damage to the nervous system and kidneys. Exposure to methyl mercury is more of a concern for children and unborn babies because their nervous systems are still developing and the nervous system is a target organ for mercury. Health effects might include brain damage, behavioral and developmental problems.
Elemental Mercury Spill Response
There are two levels of response, depending upon the quantity of mercury spilled:
Small Spills: Less than or equal to the amount in a thermometer. Cleaned by the Director of EH&S (or qualified alternate.) Medium Spills: More than the amount in a thermometer, but less than one pound. (2 tablespoons)
Cleaned by a licensed HAZMAT spill response contractor.< EM>
Large Spills: Greater than one pound. (2 tablespoons)
Cleaned by a licensed HAZMAT spill response contractor.
In the event of a elemental mercury spill of any size:
- Evacuate room occupants (including animals.).
- Secure the area, to keep people from walking through and tracking the mercury outside of the spill area.
- Turn off the heat. Heat volatilizes mercury, creating airborne mercury vapors.
- Turn off the ventilation. The ventilation system could distribute mercury vapors throughout the building.
- Open the window(s) to help remove any vapors.
- Notify the Director of Environmental Health & Safety at ext. 2252. Because of the requirement for testing to ensure that all mercury has been located and collected, ONLY the Director of EH&S will clean (small) elemental mercury spills. Mercury spills larger than the quantity found in a thermometer will be cleaned by a HAZMAT spill contractor.
Note: The Connecticut DEEP requires notification of all mercury spills, regardless of the quantity. Notification to the National Response Center (EPA) is required for spills in excess of 1 pound (two tablespoons). Spill notification is the responsibility of the Director of EH&S.
Broken Fluorescent Lamps and Tubes
As discussed in the Universal Waste Management Plan, fluorescent light fixtures contain a very small amount of mercury vapor.
- If you break a fluorescent lamp or tube, do not vacuum the the debris up with a standard vacuum cleaner! (For vacuum cleaning, only vacuums designed specifically for mercury may be used.)
- Keep all people and animals away from the spill so that mercury-containing debris is not tracked into other areas.
- Don a pair of nitrile gloves and carefully pick up the larger glass fragments. Thoroughly clean the area of the spill with a damp disposable sponge or paper towel to remove all glass fragments and mercury containing phosphorus powder. Avoid creating airborne dust from the spilled phosphorus powder.
- Keep the area well ventilated to disperse any vapors.
- After clean up is complete, place all fragments and debris, along with cleaning materials and gloves into a sealable plastic bag or other container.
- Give the container containing the broken lamp and clean up materials to the Custodian for transport to Physical Plant for proper disposal.
- Notify the Director of EH&S at ext. 2252.
Connecticut College is committed to reducing the amount of mercury used and stored on campus. By reducing the amount of mercury containing equipment, particularly in science laboratories, we can substantially reduce or eliminate the risk of spills.
- Use digital fever thermometers, instead of mercury-containing thermometers.
- Wherever possible, substitute non-mercury temperature measuring devices in teaching and research laboratories, e.g., alcohol or digital thermometers.
- Wherever possible, specify the use of non-mercury devices for measuring pressure, etc.
- Wherever possible identify mercury devices or mercury metal which are no longer needed but may be utilized by another researcher or laboratory. If unused or unneeded, designate mercury containing devices for disposal(recycling), rather than storage.
- Procure mercury in the smallest quantities available which meet the maximum usage requirements. It is more economical for Connecticut College to repurchase additional quantities of mercury when needed than to declare excess quantities of mercury for disposal.Wherever possible, eliminate the use of mercury wetted switches.