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Mercury-Thermometers: Spills
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Collection & Exchange
Alternative Products
Handling, Recycling & Disposal
Mercury Reduction Programs
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When mercury is spilled or leaks from a broken device, it can be very difficult to properly clean up. The general rule-of-thumb is that if the spill is less than one pound (approximately 2 tablespoons), reasonably contained and on a non-porous surface, then a person may be able to follow mercury spill clean up instructions and do it themselves. If a spill is greater than 2 tablespoons, not on a porous surface or if the mercury droplets are widely dispersed in a room, it would be wise to call for professional assistance.

This general rule-of-thumb is based on the 1 pound (approximately 2 tablespoons) reportable quantity for a release under the federal Comprehensive Emergency Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). In facilities that are subject to federal reporting requirements, if mercury in excess of one pound is released to the environment, it constitutes a "reportable quantity" incident and must be reported. State reporting requirements differ; some states require reporting of all mercury spills, no matter the quantity, by individuals while others require reports only of the spills that are greater than 1 pound and only by manufacturing, service and educational facilities, not spills in private homes. Contact your local spill control center or fire department, or state environmental agency for further information on reporting requirements.

Much attention has been brought lately to the potential expense of cleaning up spills in homes and in schools. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection offers this actual example. In June 1999, students cleaning out a supply closet dropped and broke 12 thermometers. The school was evacuated and a remediation firm called in to clean up the spill. This cost the school $6,000. They did not have insurance for this type of incident because of the high deductible. The school evaluated its policy and decided to get rid of the mercury in other town schools at less cost than the one spill incident. Another example from Connecticut is a $200,000 clean up cost from the breaking of one mercury barometer.


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Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
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Hub Last Updated: 1/8/2013