Not long ago at the Mason house we experienced a broken glass/mercury thermometer. Being in the environmental profession, I was fairly confident in my cleanup skills. To be cautious, however, I referred to a fact sheet from the Kentucky Environmental & Public Protection Cabinet for guidance. You can find it online at http://dep.ky.gov/Documents/MercurySpills.pdf. It is very similar to EPA’s advice. These resources give very specific guidance on how to handle a small mercury spill and dispose of waste. A fever thermometer contains only 0.5 to 0.7 grams of mercury. If the spill is larger than that, individuals are advised to get professional help by calling the Kentucky Environmental Response Team at (502) 564-2380 or (800) 928-2380. Any unpermitted release of one pound or more of mercury to the environment requires a call to the National Response Center (NRC). Mercury is heavy, so only two tablespoons of mercury weigh about one pound. If you find yourself dealing with a broken thermometer, read up before you reach for a broom or vacuum. Neither is recommended. Vacuuming mercury can be particularly harmful because it increases vaporization and spreads contamination throughout the space.
The spill and the high level of care I took cleaning up the mess reminded me of stories my dad tells about when he was a kid. He remembers playing with liquid mercury, holding it in his hand, breaking it into little balls and even putting in his mouth. Times and regulations have changed dramatically since then. Mercury exposure has been linked to brain, heart, kidney, lung, and immune system damage.
The United States has strict regulations controlling mercury in air, water and waste. Effective January 1, 2013, it became illegal to export elemental mercury from the country. According to EPA, this will help minimize adverse effects to the health of millions of artisanal gold miners and their communities. The Mercury Export Ban Act (PDF) also has provisions for the long-term mercury management and storage of elemental mercury.
SMG helps industry with compliance relating to mercury reporting, air emissions, wastewater, and wastes. If you want more information about mercury and related regulations, the EPA website has extensive information at http://www.epa.gov/hg/index.html. You may also contact Smith Management Group for compliance assistance.