Universal Waste - Mercury Spill Response
What Never to Do After a Mercury Spill
- Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury. The vacuum will put mercury into the air and increase exposure.
- Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.
- Never pour mercury down a drain. It may lodge in the plumbing and cause future problems during plumbing repairs. If discharged, it can cause pollution of the sewage treatment plant.
- Never wash clothing or other items that have come in direct contact with mercury in a washing machine, because mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage. Clothing that has come into direct contact with mercury should be discarded. By "direct contact," we mean that mercury was (or has been) spilled directly on the clothing; for example, if you break a mercury thermometer and some of elemental mercury beads came in contact with your clothing.
- Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around.
What to Do if a Mercury Thermometer BreaksNOTE: these instructions also apply to spills from other sources, if the amount spilled is less than or similar to the amount in a thermometer (see specific information about how to clean up broken fluorescent bulbs).
- Have everyone else leave the area; don't let anyone walk through the mercury on their way out. Open all windows and doors to the outside.
- Mercury can be cleaned up easily from the following surfaces: wood, linoleum, tile and any similarly smooth surfaces.
- If a spill occurs on carpet, curtains, upholstery or other absorbent surfaces, these contaminated items should be removed and discarded as a hazardous waste. Only cut and remove the affected portion of the contaminated carpet for disposal.
Cleanup Instructions for Small Spills of Elemental MercuryItems needed:
- 4 - 5 ziplock-type bags
- Trash bags (2 - 6 mils thick)
- Rubber or nitrile gloves
- Paper towels
- Cardboard or squeegee
- Eyedropper or pipet and bulb
- Duct tape
- "Hg Absorb" or similar (optional)
- Put on rubber or nitrile gloves.
- If there are any broken pieces of glass or sharp objects, pick them up with care. Place all broken objects on a paper towel. Fold the paper towel and place in a zip lock bag. Secure the bag and label it as "Hazardous Waste — Mercury."
- Locate visible mercury beads. Use a squeegee or cardboard to gather mercury beads. Use slow sweeping motions to keep mercury from becoming uncontrollable. Take a flashlight, hold it at a low angle close to the floor in a darkened room and look for additional glistening beads of mercury that may be sticking to the surface or in small cracked areas of the surface.
Note: Mercury can move surprising distances on hard, flat surfaces, so be sure to inspect the entire room when "searching."
- Use the eyedropper or pipet and bulb to collect or draw up the mercury beads. Slowly and carefully squeeze mercury onto a damp paper towel. Place the paper towel in a zip lock bag and secure. Make sure to label the bag as "Hazardous Waste – Mercury."
- After you remove larger beads, use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments. Place the paint brush or duct tape in a zip lock bag and secure. Make sure to label the bag as indicated above.
- OPTIONAL STEP: It is OPTIONAL to use commercial products to absorb the beads that are too small to see. The absorbent binds the mercury so that it can be easily removed and suppresses the vapor of any missing mercury. Where to get commercial products to absorb mercury? It may be supplied as mercury vapor absorbent in mercury spill kits, which can be purchased from laboratory, chemical supply and hazardous materials response supply manufacturers. Contact EHS for more information.
- Place all materials used with the cleanup, including gloves, in a trash bag. Place all bagged mercury beads and objects into the trash bag. Secure trash bag and label it as "Hazardous Waste — Mercury."
- Submit a Chemical Waste Collection Request, print the label when prompted by the online system, and attach the label to the trash bag.
- Remember to keep the area well ventilated to the outside (i.e., windows open and fans running) for at least 24 hours after your successful cleanup. You may want to request the services of EHS to monitor for mercury vapors. If sickness occurs, seek medical attention immediately and contact EHS. View information on health effects related to exposures to vapors from metallic mercury. For additional information on health effects, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) provides a Mercury Fact Sheet that also presents information on health effects related to exposures to vapors from metallic mercury.
Spills of More than the Amount in a Thermometer
- Have everyone else leave the area; don't let anyone walk through the mercury on their way out.
- Open all windows and doors to the outside.
- Turn down the temperature.
- Shut all doors to other parts of the facility, and leave the area.
- Do not vacuum. Call EHS immediately at 208-885-6524. If after business hours, call 911.