Hazard Communication

In the event of a hazardous material (biological, chemical, radiological, fuel, or oil) spill, incident, or release for which assistance is needed:

  • If the incident is indoors, close all doors in order to isolate the area, if it is safe to do so.
  • Evacuate the location of the spill. A full building evacuation may be necessary. Follow building evacuation protocols.
  • From a safe area, call Public Safety at Ext. 7575 or (567) 661-7575. Public Safety will contact required agencies.

Be prepared to provide the following information regarding the spill or release:

  • Name of material
  • Quantity of material
  • Time of incident
  • Location of incident
  • If anyone is injured or exposed to material
  • If a fire or explosion is involved
  • Your name, phone number and location

Also be prepared to:

  • Follow instructions provided by Public Safety or any emergency responder.
  • Arrange for someone to meet Public Safety or emergency responder outside of the spill location.
  • Present the Safety Data Sheets of the involved substances to any emergency responders if this information is available.
  • Do not attempt to clean up a spill or release unless you are trained to do so and have the proper equipment.
  • Clear the area immediately if instructed to do so by the emergency providers, providing assistance to those with special needs.
  • Follow evacuation procedures for the location.
  • When evacuating, move crosswind, never directly with or against the wind.

If you observe what you believe to be an unauthorized release of any pollutants to the environment, call the Department of Public Safety immediately at (567) 661-7575.

Guidelines for Handling a Small Mercury Spill

Mercury is present in a number of forms in the environment. Spills most commonly occur with elemental mercury. It is a shiny, dense, silver-gray metal that is a liquid at room temperature. Liquid mercury can be found on a college campus in items such as:

  • Thermometers, thermostats, barometers, and electrical switches
  • Silver dental fillings and some medical equipment
  • Light bulbs such as fluorescent, high intensity, mercury vapor, metal halide and high-pressure sodium

When liquid mercury is spilled, it disperses into tiny round droplets. As it is exposed to the air, it emits a vapor that is odorless, colorless and very toxic. Under normal conditions, a small mercury spill will pose little risk to your health if the proper steps are taken.

Types, Sources and Properties of Mercury

Metallic Mercury (Elemental Mercury) Information

  • Shiny, silver-white metal that exists as a liquid at room temperature.
  • Expands and contracts evenly with temperature changes.
  • Highly toxic.
  • Readily vaporizes at or near 55°F.
  • Reaches gaseous state at 300°C.
  • Alloys with copper, silver, nickel, gold and zinc to form amalgam.
  • Bio-accumulates in humans, animals and the environment.
  • Found in thermometers, barometers, thermostats, pressure gauges, dental offices, blood pressure devices, fluorescent light bulbs and some tennis shoes that light up.
  • Very high level of electrical conductivity (but has no charge), used in batteries, rectifiers, oscillators, power control switches and vapor lamps.
  • Is not water-soluble.
  • Used in the production of chlorine gas (amalgamates with sodium in sodium chloride), caustic soda and gold extraction.
  • Used in the production of paint
  • Medicinal: Used primarily in dental offices for cavity filling.
  • Herbal and religious remedies in Latin America, Asia and Caribbean. Sold under the name “Azogue”.
  • Vapor can accumulate in wall spaces, attics, etc.
  • Vapor can accumulate in electronic equipment, especially computers.
  • Mercury re-vaporizes when device is turned on and heat is generated

Inorganic Mercury

  • Also called mercury salts.
  • Occurs when mercury combines with elements such as chlorine, sulfur and oxygen.
  • Most are white powders and/or crystals.
  • Ionized.
  • Easily associates with particles and water in the atmosphere.
  • Used for fungicides and skin lighting creams.

Organic Mercury

  • Formed when mercury combines with carbon.
  • Most common form is methyl mercury.
  • Form most available to zooplankton, insects, fish, and humans.
  • Bio-accumulates in tissues.
  • Volatile.
  • Water-soluble.

Defining Mercury Spill Size & Suggested Definitions Spill Size

Small Spill (Contained)

A Small Spill may result from a broken thermometer or thermostat. The amount of mercury contained in these devices is usually around 3 grams. Small spills are those that are two tablespoons or less.

Small Spill (Spread out)

A Small Spill that may result from a broken thermometer or thermostat. This spill has spread out either by the beads of mercury breaking apart upon impact with another surface or by tracking either by humans or animals. This spill usually is confined to one room and the impacted area may cover up to 50 square feet.

Large Spill

A Large Spill can be from any source of mercury that involves multiple rooms, buildings, motor vehicles or where the impacted area covers more than 50 square feet. If a spill is larger, if the mercury has been tracked through a home or building, or if the mercury has spread into difficult to clean areas, do not attempt to handle the problem yourself. Contact the Workplace Safety & Health Department for assistance.

Health Issues Associated With Mercury

Very high exposures to mercury vapor can cause acute poisoning and/or death. Symptoms usually begin with cough, chest tightness, difficulty breathing and upset stomach.

Acute inhalation of mercury vapor may result in chills, nausea, general malaise, tightness in the chest, chest pain, difficulty breathing, cough, kidney damage, stomatitis, gingivitis, salivation, diarrhea and death.

Mercury is considered a poison and the routes of exposure include inhalation, ingestion and absorption.

The most common route of exposure for elemental mercury is inhalation.
The most common route for of exposure for organic mercury is ingestion.

Mercury has a delayed burning sensation to the skin and eye of several minutes up to several hours.

The central nervous system is very sensitive to mercury vapor. Chronic exposure is characterized by behavior changes, weakness, fatigue, weight loss, gastro-intestinal dysfunction, tremors in fingers, eyelids and lips, memory loss, insomnia and depression.

When a small spill occurs:

  • Immediately isolate the area. Have all people leave the room and open windows to facilitate ventilation
  • If the mercury has come in contact with your skin and/or clothing, have someone bring you wet paper towels and a garbage bag. Use the paper towels to wipe off all visible mercury from your skin and place the paper towels and any contaminated clothing into the garbage bag. Shower well.
  • Gather a pair of rubber gloves, a flashlight, Ziploc baggies, large garbage bags, wide- mouth plastic or glass containers with lids, eye dropper, stiff sheets of cardboard and duct tape.
  • If the mercury has spilled in a heated device, allow it to cool completely before beginning the clean-up. Warmer temperatures cause mercury to emit vapors at a much faster rate.
  • Remove jewelry. Put on gloves.
  • If the mercury has spilled onto an absorbent material, the material must be discarded. Carefully place the material into a Ziploc or container with lid, making sure to contain the mercury.
  • Place any broken glass into a container with a lid.
  • Use the flashlight to facilitate locating all of the mercury that has spilled. The light will reflect off of the mercury beads, making them easier to find.
  • Use the cardboard to scrape the droplets together. Do not use a broom. It will cause the droplets to break into even smaller droplets, making the clean up more difficult. Additionally, never use a vacuum cleaner. Not only will the vacuum become contaminated and have to be thrown away, but also the vacuum will cause mercury vapor to disperse throughout the room.
  • Carefully suction the mercury droplets with the eyedropper, or scoop the droplets with the cardboard. Place the mercury droplets, eyedropper, and cardboard into a Ziploc or container with lid.
  • Use the duct tape to lift any remaining beads of mercury. Place the tape in a Ziploc or container with lid.
  • If a mercury spill clean- up kit is available, sprinkle the mercury absorbent powder lightly over the remaining droplets. Spray a water mist over the powder. Scrape the materials together and place into a Ziploc or container with lid.

Remember: Anything that comes into contact with the mercury is contaminated and must be discarded. When the cleanup is complete, all supplies used must be placed into the garbage bags. This includes the gloves, flashlight, tape, Ziplocs and containers utilized, and any clothing or shoes that may have come in contact with the spill. Contaminated clothing cannot be laundered in a washing machine. The machine will become contaminated.