Mercury Management Plan

The purpose of the Mercury Management Plan is to (a) establish guidelines to be followed when mercury is released or spilled into the environment, (b) outline disposal procedures and (c) provide alternatives that can be used for mercury substitution.  

What is Mercury?

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in air, water, and soil.  It exists in several forms: elemental or metallic mercury, inorganic mercury compounds and organic mercury compounds.  Elemental or metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white metal and is liquid at room temperature.  Elemental mercury is used in thermometers, fluorescent bulbs, and certain types of machinery and equipment, including pressure gauges, thermostats, and electrical switches.  

The symbol for mercury is Hg and can be found on products, such a fluorescent or metal halide light bulbs, that use it. 

Health Effects of Mercury

Acute or Short Term Exposure

Inhalation: Inhalation of vapors is the primary route of exporure and mercury vapors are highly toxic via an inhalation route. Mercury causes severe respiratory tract damage. Symptoms include sore throat, coughing, pain, tightness in chest, breathing difficulties, headache, muscle weakness, liver changes, fever, and pneumonitis. Most inhaled mercury vapors are retained in the lungs and quickly passes into the bloodstream.

Ingestion: Mercury may cause burning of the mouth and pharynx, abdominal pain, vomiting, corrosive ulceration, and bloody diarrhea. Delayed death may occur from renal failure.

Skin or Eye Contact: Elemental mercury vapor is very slowly absorbed through the skin in high concentrations, but causes irritation of both skin and eyes and may produce contact dermatitis.

Chronic or Long Term Exposure

Repeated or continuous exposure to elemental mercury can result in accumulation of mercury in the body and permanent damage to the nervous system and kidneys. Classic symptoms of poisoning include neuropsychiatric effects, renal impairment, and oropharyngeal inflammation. The neuropsychiatric effects include tremor, anxiety, emotional lability, forgetfulness, insomnia, anorexia, erethism (abnormal irritation, sensitivity, or excitement), fatigue, and cognitive and motor dysfunction. No evidence has been shown or provided to substantiate that mercury is a carcinogen.

Chronic exposure may be more serious for children because of their potential longer latency period.

Mercury as a Hazardous Waste

  • Cannot be disposed of by pouring down the sanitary sewer or placed in regular trash.
  • Waste must be managed according to all federal, state, and local regulations.
  • Must be properly labeled with hazardous waste tag and stored in a sealable container.
  • Mercury waste must be segregated from other waste streams when stored.
  • Bates College EHS must be notified for a hazardous waste pickup.

Mercury as a Universal Waste

  • Universal wastes are EPA regulated wastes, but are not hazardous if recycled properly.
  • Mercury-containing equipment means a device or part of a device that contains elemental mercury integral to its function. Examples include thermostats, fluorescent light bulbs, and various machinery or equipment.
  • Mercury containing-equipment or the container in which its stored, must be labeled “Mercury Waste – Mercury Containing Equipment”, or other wording to that effect.
  • A structurally sound container must be used for storage, and it must have the accumulation start date marked on the container. The container must be kept closed and waste streams must be segregated.
  • Contact Bates EHS for labels or a waste pickup.

Mercury Spills

What NOT to Do

  • NEVER use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury.
  • NEVER use a broom to clean up mercury. Mercury must be cleaned up with a dedicated spill kit used by trained staff.
  • NEVER pour mercury down a drain. It can cause damage to plumbing fixtures or can cause pollution waterways or a sewage treatment plant.
  • NEVER wash clothing or other items that have come into direct contact with mercury in a washing machine. Clothing that has come into direct contact with mercury should be discarded. Direct contact means elemental mercury has been spilled directly on clothing.
  • NEVER walk around if your shoes have been contaminated with mercury.
  • NEVER touch mercury with bare hands.

What To Do

  • If spilled, direct mercury away from drains, cracks, or crevices. Once accomplished, contact Bates EHS immediately.
  • Keep non-essential personnel away from the spill area to limit exposure.
  • Bate EHS stocks a Mercury Spill Clean-Up Kit designed to collect and store mercury. It consists of specialized absorbent powder, gloves, a dust pan, scraper, shoe covers, and sealable bags. NO OTHER METHOD SHOULD BE USED TO CLEAN A MERCURY SPILL UNLESS A HAZARDOUS WASTE COMPANY IS CALLED IN AN EMERGENCY.

Mercury Thermometer Replacement

Mercury thermometers present a hazard for occupants in laboratory areas. Broken thermometers containing mercury create hazardous waste that is expensive to clean up and dispose of. It also presents a serious hazard to the local environment or interfere with the wastewater treatment process.

Whenever possible, thermometers containing mercury should be properly disposed of, through EHS, and replaced with thermometers containing a less toxic chemical.

If thermometers containing mercury are observed, please contact EHS for their pick and disposal.