Dealing with mercury spills

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Mercury is a neurotoxin that can be found in medical and / or measuring devices such as thermometers, thermostats and blood pressure monitors.1 It can cause poisoning if a measuring device breaks and the spill is not effectively contained and disposed of.

Places where mercury measuring devices are used:

  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Laboratories
  • Homes
  • Dental practices

If you spill a large amount of mercury, you will need to contact a specialist hazardous waste disposal company to help you deal with it.

Never dispose of mercury as you would other spills (don't hoover or brush up). Traditional cleaning methods can spread the mercury and expose the air to it. It is not advisable to pour mercury down the drain as it can contaminate the wastewater system as well as potentially causing plumbing breakages.2

When dealing with a mercury spill, the area needs to be evacuated and there needs to be good ventilation.3 It is particularly important that children and pets are removed from the area as quickly as possible. The best way to ventilate is to open windows whilst also blocking any interior vents so that mercury vapour can't spread around the building. 4 It may be best to keep the windows open for several days after the spill has been cleared. You must not come into direct contact with the spill. If possible, lower the room temperature as mercury will evaporate quicker at higher temperatures. 5

Mercury is classed as hazardous waste. Local authorities will need to be consulted regarding the collection or recycling of the mercury waste.6

If your business or home has mercury measuring devices, it may be best to prepare ahead and make sure that you always have a mercury spill kit to hand. Larger facilities like hospitals may require several kits.

Information regarding our Mercury Spill Kits

The HSE recommend that respiratory protective equipment such as a mercury vapour mask should be worn when containing spills.

The kit does not include a vapour mask. These need to be purchased separately.

The kit contains:

  • 2 x disposal units
  • Danger 'Keep Away' notice
  • Toxic warning tape
  • Small water spray bottle

Each disposal unit contains equipment to manage the spill. These include:

  • Instruction card
  • Protective gloves
  • Protective apron
  • Absorbing powder
  • Scrapers
  • Syringe
  • Sponge

How to contain a mercury spill using our kit

1. Once a spill has occurred and the area has been evacuated, windows have been opened and a mask has been put on, you will need to check the instruction guide. This is to ensure that you are fully informed regarding procedure before beginning.

2. Open up one of the disposal units and remove the contents.

3 Put on gloves and apron.

4. Check expiry date on absorbing powder to make sure it is still in date.

5. Use the syringe to aspirate as much mercury as you can.

6. Dispose of the syringe and contained mercury by placing it carefully in the disposal unit. Replace the disposal unit lid.

7. If all of the mercury could not be collected using the syringe, use the scrapers to collect the mercury together then discard the scrapers into the disposal unit. Replace the disposal unit lid.

8. Pour the absorbing powder onto the mercury that was collected using the scrapers.

9. Fill the spray bottle with water and dampen the powder. Cover the dampened powder with the 'Warning' sign and leave for 8 hours or overnight.

10. After 8 hours, put on the new nitrile gloves and dampen the sponges. Use the sponges to wipe up the powder and mercury and place them into the disposal unit.

11. All used items apart from the spray bottle, warning tape and warning sign need to be placed within the disposal unit.

12. Once the disposal unit lid has been replaced, it needs to be sealed with the warning tape.

13. Dispose of the unit in accordance with local authority guidelines.

References

1. http://www.env-health.org/IMG/pdf/Managing_Small_Spills_B-2.pdf

2 & 3. https://www.epa.gov/mercury/what-do-if-mercury-thermometer-breaks

4 & 5. https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/chemicals/hsees/mercury/cleaning_up_a_small_mercury_spill.htm

6. http://www.env-health.org/IMG/pdf/Managing_Small_Spills_B-2.pdf

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