Mercury Spill

Mercury Spill Conditions

For any of the following Mercury Spill Conditions:

  • The spilled mercury is small but affected individuals do not know how to properly clean up the mercury.
  • The spilled mercury has scattered onto the floor, carpet or over equipment on a lab bench or hood
  • Someone has been contaminated with mercury droplets, for example
    • the mercury droplets are or have been in their clothing, shirt, shoes, etc, or
    • mercury has contacted or is smeared on their skin, face, mouth, nose, hair etc.

ACTION (for the above conditions):

  1. Non-contaminated individuals should move away from the immediate vicinity of the spill. Unnecessary personnel should leave the lab or area. Individuals with mercury on their person or clothing should remain in the area so other locations are not contaminated.
  2. The spill area is to be marked and cordoned off with tape and/or barriers to prevent spreading the mercury droplets. Under no condition should spilled mercury be routed to sink or floor drains.
  3. If the spill is on main NMSU campus, it should be reported as soon as possible (both during normal hours as well as after hours) to the NMSU Campus Police (575-646-3311). The report should note that a mercury spill has occurred and provide the location and contact information. NMSU Police will notify Environmental Health and Safety. If the spill is at an NMSU area off-campus please contact the EHS office directly at 575-646-3327 (if after hours notify the NMSU Police 575-646-3311 and they will contact EHS).
  4. For campus areas, EH&S personnel will clean up the spill and can check the area & any contaminated personnel for toxic mercury vapor. For off-campus areas, EHS will provide advice and may be able to arrange cleanup.
  5. After a review by EH&S personnel using a vapor monitor, individual(s) with contamination on their person may be sent for medical review.
    • In the event of personnel contamination, an accident report must be filed.
    • Contaminated clothing or shoes may be confiscated for disposal.
    • If instructed, the individual(s) should go to Campus Heath Services.
    • For incidents after hours or at NMSU off-campus locations the contaminated individuals should go to the nearest medical facility.

ALTERNATE PROCEDURES (off campus areas):

If the spill is not on the main campus and the above conditions don’t apply, e.g. spill is small (less than milliliter), not scattered, no personnel contamination) and you have the mercury clean up materials, you can clean up mercury as follows:

  1. Mark and isolate the spill location The initial response to a spill of elemental mercury should be to isolate the spill area before beginning the cleanup procedure.
  2. Those doing the cleanup should wear protective gloves. The cleanup should begin with collecting the droplets. The large droplets can be consolidated by using a scraper or a piece of cardboard, and the pool of mercury removed with a pump or other appropriate equipment.
  3. Alternately, small mercury droplets may be picked up on wet toweling, which consolidates the small droplets to larger pieces, or picked up with a piece of adhesive tape. Commercial mercury spill cleanup sponges and spill control kits are available. The common practice of using sulfur should be discontinued because the practice is ineffective and the resulting waste creates a disposal problem.

NOTE:

  • Most mercury spills do not pose a high risk, so long as all the mercury can be contained and it has not contaminated anyone.
  • A standard vacuum cleaner should NOT be used to pick up mercury.
  • Mercury spills can be avoided by using supplies and equipment that do not contain mercury. A quick list of products containing mercury is on the Safety web under chemical safety.