Handling Spills of Elemental Mercury

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Department of Safety and Environmental Compliance

 

Handling Spills of Elemental Mercury

Mercury spills can be avoided by using supplies and equipment that do not contain mercury. It is not unusual for mercury to be spilled, contaminating working areas. However, most mercury spills do not pose a high threat. When spilled, mercury often fragments into small beads that can bounce and roll away from the initial spill location. All labs and facilities where mercury is used should have a "mercury spill kit" in case of spill. Mercury spill kits are commercially available and usually contain treated sponges, absorbent material, gloves, shoe coverings, a small, plastic dustpan and scraper and plastic bags.

When a spill of elemental mercury occurs:

  1. Alert others in the area that a spill has occurred.

  2. Isolate the area to prevent people from entering the spill area and spreading the contamination.

  3. Determine whether the spill is a simple or complex spill:
    • A simple spill is one caused by a laboratory thermometer or other small device involving less than 15 milliliters, where all the mercury is accessible on a non-porous surface
    • A complex spill is one that involves more than 15 milliliters, and is located on a porous surface (carpet, etc.) or is widely spread

  4. Prior to starting cleanup procedures, remove all gold or silver jewelry.

  5. Wear a pair of chemical resistant gloves (nitrile or silver shield), a lab coat and eye protection.

  6. Starting at the outside perimeter and using a scraper, push the scattered mercury droplets together into larger droplets.

  7. Aspirate the larger mercury droplets and place them into a zip-lock bag or screw top container. A disposable syringe or handheld mercury vacuum can be used to aspirate the mercury droplets.

  8. DO NOT USE A REGULAR VACUUM AS THIS DISPERSES DROPLETS, INCREASES THE AIRBORNE LEVEL OF MERCURY VAPOR AND CONTAMINATES THE EQUIPMENT USED

  9. Use a flashlight to illuminate smaller beads of mercury. Mercury droplets can be pinhead size or smaller. Clean the spill area and perimeter if necessary. Pay close attention to cracks and crevices that may hide small beads of mercury.

  10. Place any materials used for the cleanup procedures into a plastic bag for disposal.

    DO NOT MIX THESE MATERIALS WITH ANY FREE MERCURY YOU MAY HAVE COLLECTED