Environmental Health & Safety
Laboratory Safety Unit
Mercury Spill Clean-Up Procedures
Mercury can still be found in many laboratories, mostly in thermometers and barometers. There are now many mercury-free devices available. EH&S recommends replacing the mercury containing units whenever possible.
The following guidelines have been established to prevent mercury exposures to personnel and prevent the release of mercury into the environment. Occupational exposure to mercury is most likely through inhalation of mercury vapors. Possible health effects from mercury exposures can include kidney damage and central nervous system disorders.
The small quantity of mercury in a thermometer does not present a health hazard to personnel if immediate action is taken to clean up the spilled mercury should a thermometer breaks. The concentration of mercury vapors generated immediately after a spill is very low. However, the use of personal protective equipment - gloves - is still needed to prevent dermal exposure.
Only a small quantity of mercury can be found in a standard thermometer. When a thermometer breaks, some or all of the mercury may be released. Using a 3" x 5" index card, push the mercury into a pile. Make sure peripheral areas are checked for mercury. If any is found, push the mercury into the pile. Using two 3" x 5" cards, gather the mercury droplets onto one of the cards and transfer the mercury into a small plastic bottle. A special mercury sponge can also be used to absorb the mercury. For those droplets that may be difficult to remove, use one of the following actions:
- Use a syringe (no needle) to suck up the mercury
- Use "scotch" tape and press the tape onto the mercury. By carefully lifting the tape, mercury will remain on the tape.
- Use a pasteur pipet attached to a filter flask containing some water connected to suction (water aspirator or vacuum source).
For each of the listed steps, place the collected mercury into a sealable non-metallic container. Go over the area a second time to ensure that all the mercury has been removed. Use CHEMATIX to complete a waste tag so the material is disposed of as hazardous waste.
After a mercury spill is cleaned up, a flashlight can be used to check for any beads of mercury that may remain. Turn off the room lights and shine a flashlight at the spill area. Any mercury that still is present will be visible when the light shines on the mercury at a glancing angle.
Barometers and Manometers
Some locations at the University still use barometers containing mercury. These devices contain a large quantity of mercury. To reduce the possibility of airborne exposures or tracking the mercury into other areas should the mercury be released from these devices, the following actions are to be taken:
- For the Medical Center, use the red "Emergency 13 Flip Chart" Chemical/Biological/Radiological Spill Protocol and follow the procedure listed for a major spill (leave the immediate area, contact Public Safety at x13, and be available for emergency responders).
- For the River Campus, use the blue "Emergency 13 Flip Chart" Chemical/Biological/Radiological Spill Protocol and follow the procedure listed for a major spill (leave the immediate area, contact Public Safety at x13, and be available for emergency responders).
- For the rest of the University, personnel are to leave the immediate area, contact Public Safety at x13, and be available for emergency responders.
Environmental Health and Safety (275-3241) will be notified of the spill. The responders will use a special mercury vacuum and a mercury meter to verify all the mercury was removed.
QUESTIONS or COMMENTS?
Contact EH&S at (585) 275-3241 or e-mail EH&S Questions.
This page last updated 8/18/2015. Disclaimer.