- Small amounts of spilled mercury can be safely cleaned up by using the following general precautions:
- Contact causes burns to skin or eyes.
- Material is toxic.
- May be absorbed through the skin.
- Liquid generates vapor that may be harmful if inhaled. Mercury metal has no noticeable odor or warning properties.
- Vapor generation will increase with increased heat.
- Suction device such as Pasteur pipette or syringe without needle
- Mercury collection sponge and container
- Card or scraper
- Forceps/tool to pick up sharps
- Flashlight Lab coat or apron
- Lab coat or apron
- Shoe covers (optional)
- Splash goggles
- Chemical-resistant gloves
- Zip-top plastic bags
- Heavy duty waste bags
- Masking or duct tape
- Sealable container
- Hazardous waste labels
Response Actions/Cleanup Methods
Spill Type – Small quantities such as produced by a broken thermometer.
- Small amounts of spilled mercury can be safely cleaned up by using the following general precaution:
- Avoid skin contact.
- Minimize the disturbance of material during cleanup to minimize vapors; and
- Concentrate on getting the bulk of the spilled material into a sealed container before beginning any additional cleanup steps.
- Skin and eye protection are needed because mercury can be absorbed through the skin. Double 4-mil thick nitrile gloves may be used.
- Mercury vapors will go into the air at a very slow rate when the liquid is undisturbed (unless it is heated), so do not disturb the spill until you are ready to clean it up.
- The cleanup procedures depend on the location of the spill and the surface needing to be cleaned.
Response Actions/Cleanup Methods
- Stabilize the spill without contaminating yourself and isolate the area to prevent others from coming in contact with the spill and enlarging the spill area.
- Keep mercury away from sinks and drains.
- Do not touch or walk through spilled material. Do not disturb it until ready to clean it up.
- Determine if the surface is porous (such as carpet, upholstery, or fabric) or non-porous (sealed wood, vinyl, and linoleum). Observe the area for cracks, crevices or other places where mercury can collect.
- Plan and conduct the cleanup.
- Do not use a broom. The mercury will break up, spread, and generate vapor.
- Do not use a vacuum! Ordinary vacuums will spread the spilled mercury and generate vapor. The vacuum will also become contaminated and will be considered hazardous waste.
- Carefully pick up any broken glass. Sharps such as broken thermometers that have contained or still contain mercury must be placed in a separate container and labeled as mercury-containing hazardous waste.
- Working from the edge of the spill inward, use a card or scraper to push the mercury droplets together into a larger drop.
- Aspirate larger droplets using a suction device such as a Pasteur pipet or syringe with no needle or carefully transfer the droplets directly into a plastic container with a sealable lid (screw-top vial, empty plastic jar, film canister, etc.).
- Use the suction device to get material out of cracks.
- Pieces of masking tape or duct tape may be used to pick up tiny droplets.
- An anti-static spray may help to release tiny droplets.
- Use a flashlight in reduced-light areas to detect missed mercury. Scan parallel to the floor.
- A mercury sponge may be used to take up small amounts of material on flat surfaces. Follow directions included with the kit.
- Commercial mercury-absorbent powder may be used to amalgamate remaining residue. Sprinkle powder over area, spray with water mist or recommended activator, scrape into a paste, and wipe up with damp paper towels.
- Commercial mercury “wipes” may be used as a final step to remove residue from cleaned surfaces.
- Place all trash, PPE, etc, into a zip-tip bag or a plastic waste bag. Double bag and secure, then place into a box. Seal the box and affix a hazardous waste label identifying the material as “mercury spill debris.”
- Contaminated items should be disposed of as hazardous waste.
- Affected area of a carpet may be cut out and replaced.
- Seek advice from EHS staff if mercury is spilled on other porous surfaces.
Factors That Can Complicate Spill Response
- Heated spills can be an inhalation hazard. If spilled in hot equipment, leave area and return when equipment is cool.
- Seek advice from EHS if spills larger in quantity than the amount in a broken mercury thermometer occur.
- Dimpled or uneven surfaces can increase the difficulty of collecting droplets.
- For spills in hard-to-reach areas such as behind cabinets, consult with EHS.
- Do not use a vacuum cleaner because it will become contaminated and will be considered hazardous waste. Vacuuming will also cause the mercury to spread and exhaust mercury vapor into the air.