Mercury is a naturally occurring element that can be toxic to humans and wildlife. When products containing mercury are broken, or thrown in the trash or down drains, the mercury pollutes the environment. You can be exposed to mercury by breathing its vapors, through dental and medical treatments, or by eating mercury-contaminated fish or handling mercury.
Dietary mercury is the dominant source of mercury exposure in the general population. Women who are pregnant or who may soon become pregnant should be particularly careful about mercury. For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. Some fish and shellfish, however, contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system.
Learn what items contain mercury.
Mercury is found in many common products such as thermometers, thermostats, florescent bulbs, and switches. The button batteries found in your calculators, watches, and hearing aids may contain mercury. Even some topical disinfectants, contact lens solutions, and detergents contain mercury. Do not bring mercury thermometers or other devices to campus.
Never put mercury-containing items in the trash or down drains.
When products that contain mercury are thrown away, they end up at landfills, incinerators, or waste water treatment plants where the mercury can enter the environment. Recycle all button batteries. Facilities and grounds recycles all fluorescent light bulbs; contact facilities and grounds at ext. 5431 if you have fluorescent bulbs or a bulb breaks. Special collection procedures are in place for compact fluorescent light bulbs. To dispose safely of mercury containing products on campus, contact environmental health and safety [ext. 6620].
Mercury Spill Clean-up
Take immediate precautions. Call environmental health and safety [EHS] at ext. 6620 or campus police [ext. 5424] for advice and assistance.
Do not touch the mercury. Keep people and pets out of the area to avoid spreading the contamination. Open windows to ventilate the area. If the mercury is spilled in an oven or other heated device, evacuate the area and call campus police. Remove all jewelry from your hands, since mercury bonds with most metals, and put on gloves.
Contain the spill.
Spilled mercury can spread quickly. Move furniture and other objects away from the spill and prevent mercury from flowing into drains, cracks, or crevices.
Never vacuum or sweep the spill.
Vacuuming or sweeping up a mercury spill will spread the mercury throughout the room and contaminate your vacuum or broom.
Clean-up the spill.
For small amounts on a hard surface, push the beads together with a stiff piece of paper or cardboard. Lift the beads with the cardboard and place into a plastic container. Pick up any remaining mercury with duct or packing tape or an eyedropper and place in the container along with the pieces of the broken item, the cardboard, and gloves. Close the container tightly. If on a carpet, contact environmental health and safety for advice; the carpet may need to be removed. To dispose of mercury waste on campus, call environmental health and safety [ext. 6620].
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