Procedures for Spills of Elemental Mercury

Mercury Spill Situation

For any of the following:

  • A spill occurs which involves more mercury than is contained in a small thermometer (more than a milliliter).

  • A small amount of mercury is spilled but individuals in the area do not know how to properly clean up the mercury.

  • Mercury has spilled onto the floor or carpet or been scattered over equipment on a lab bench or in a hood

  • Someone has been contaminated with mercury droplets, e.g.the material

    • has contacted or is on or in their clothing, shirt, shoes, etc, or

    • has contacted or is smeared on their skin, face, mouth, nose, hair etc.

ACTION:

  • Non-contaminated individuals should move away from the immediate vicinity of the spill.  Unnecessary personnel should leave the lab or room. Individuals with mercury on their person or clothing should remain in the area so other locations are not contaminated.

  • The spill area should be marked and cordoned off to prevent spreading the mercury droplets. 

  • Call 911 or 646-3311 (University Police) and report the mercury spill.

  • The incident should be reported as soon as possible (both during normal hours as well as after hours).  University Police will notify the Office of Environmental Health and Safety.  EH&S personnel will clean up the spill and check the area and any contaminated personnel for toxic mercury vapor.

  • After a review by EH&S personnel using a vapor monitor, individiual with contamination on their person may be sent for medical review

    • Employee should go to Employee Heath Services.  Students are to go Student Health Center.  After hours contaminated individuals should go to the nearest medical facility. 

    • In the event of personnel contamination, an accident report must be filed.

    • Contaminated clothing or shoes may be confiscated for disposal. 

ALTERNATE:

You can clean up a spill of mercury if none of the above apply and you have the mercury clean up materials.

  • The initial response to a spill of elemental mercury should be to isolate the spill area and begin the cleanup procedure. Those doing the cleanup should wear protective gloves.

  • The cleanup should begin with collecting the droplets. The large droplets can be consolidated by using a scraper or a piece of cardboard, and the pool of mercury removed with a pump or other appropriate equipment.

  • A standard vacuum cleaner should never be used to pick up mercury. If a house vacuum system is used, it can be protected from the mercury by a charcoal filter in a trap.

  • Alternately, small mercury droplets may be picked up on wet toweling, which consolidates the small droplets to larger pieces, or picked up with a piece of adhesive tape. Commercial mercury spill cleanup sponges and spill control kits are available. The common practice of using sulfur should be discontinued because the practice is ineffective and the resulting waste creates a disposal problem.

NOTE:

  • Most mercury spills do not pose a high risk, so long as all the mercury can be contained and it has not contaminated anyone.

  • Mercury spills can be avoided by using supplies and equipment that do not contain mercury.

  • Quick list of products containing mercury.

 

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Contact Information 
 Environmental Health& Safety: MSC-3578, P.O. Box 30001, Academic Research Bldg. C, Rm. 109
    Street delivery address: NMSU, 1620 Standley Dr., Academic Research Bldg. C, Las Cruces, NM 88003
    Training Office: Academic Research Unit C, rm110 (see map ), 
    Telephone: 575-646-3327; FAX: 575-646-7898. Website - http://www.nmsu.edu/safety
    Send email to David Shearer, EH&S (click here) with questions or comments about this web site. 
    This page was last updated on 09/21/2014