FACT SHEET # 21
NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY PROCEDURE FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF BROKEN THERMOMETERS & SPHYGMOMANOMETERS
Mercury is very toxic to humans even in small doses. It effects the central nervous system, kidneys, liver, and the ability to feel, see, hear, taste, and move. Mercury-contaminated fish eaten by pregnant women can effect fetal development. Therefore, mercury loadings to the environment need to be reduced and, where possible, eliminated. The use of alternatives to mercury-containing products and the proper disposal of broken or spent products will help reduce mercury in the environment.
Use a mercury spill kit that has mercury powders or sponges to absorb the free mercury. Dispose of the mercury and broken parts of the thermometer in a clear heavy zip lock or plastic bag. Label the bag to alert others of the contents. Remember not to touch the mercury without gloves. Do Not sweep the mercury as it will just distribute the substance even more. The Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) has a mercury vacuum available to clean up mercury spills if needed. Contact EHS to arrange to use it. EH&S also has mercury spill kits and sponges available for emergency use at all hallway spill stations.
Restrict area affected by the spill and stop further contamination. To temporarily control the spill, spread the powder from a spill kit or as an alternative use sulfur or zinc powder. Cover from the perimeter of the spill toward the center. Do not walk through the spill or the amalgamate powder. Report the spill to EHS at x2769. You can also arrange for the mercury vacuum and assistance with further clean-up or disposal.
All waste (including mercury) must be put into appropriate containers such as glass bottles, plastic/polyethylene containers, or metal containers holding original contents only. No metal containers holding mixed solvents or other material, including water, that was not originally in the container will be accepted. The reason for this is that metal cans holding mixed chemicals have corroded and have caused significant spills in the past. Exceptions to this rule must be approved by EHS. Containers must be compatible with the hazardous waste being accumulated. Secure tops must be kept on containers at all times unless adding or removing waste. Funnels are only allowed when containers are being filled. The maximum size allowed for containers is 55 gallons for hazardous waste and one quart for acutely hazardous waste (see our hazardous waste determination information page for additional information).
All wastes that are hazardous must be clearly identified as “hazardous waste” on the label. In addition, the date when the waste container was filled or no longer needed, the physical hazards of the waste (e.g. corrosive), as well as an identification of the chemicals or chemical mixtures must be put on the label. Hazardous waste disposal labels are available through EHS and should be used when declaring a material a hazardous waste. They are available by either calling our office at x2769, requesting some using our online form or downloading them from our website.
Hazardous chemical wastes are currently picked-up from laboratories every Tuesday and Thursday for generators of waste that have filled out our online hazardous waste disposal request form. Remember, your waste can not be picked-up unless you submit the form indicating your name, phone number, location, and quantity and type of hazardous waste you have ready for disposal. Filled or unwanted wastes must be removed from the laboratory within three days so it is important that you contact us once this occurs.