Federal and State Guidelines on Handling Mercury Spills

By Mary Crumpston|October 21, 2017News|

While the leak of mercury-containing fluid in Sylvania’s HT building has been described as small, it was well above the hazardous waste threshold and deemed toxic waste by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCA.)  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes Mercury as a neurotoxin that, especially when inhaled after a spill can lead to tremors, headaches, and emotional changes.

According to the EPAs mercury safety guidelines, after a mercury leak takes place in a building, all occupants should be immediately evacuated. Fortunately, the mercury that leaked in the HT building was in liquid form rather than gas, rendering it unlikely to circulate in the airflow and therefore less dangerous. Regardless, the EPA recommends having everyone leave the area a safety precaution. Children especially, according to the site, should be kept away from mercury. Heidi Van Brocklin, a specialist fo rthe colleges Facilities Management Services department reported that the director of the Child Development Center was kept informed, as were the parents and staff that use that center. It is unknown at present if other staff and students were informed.

Image of Amalgam Separator

Rebec Amalgam Separator

The waste should be handled with latex gloves so that the toxic substance does not make contact with skin. All mercury beads, and items that made contact with the mercury like broken glass shards, should be folded in cardboard and placed in a plastic bag. Some mercury may stick in corners or places hidden from clear visibility. To make sure all mercury is completely taken care of, the room in which the spill takes place must be searched very thoroughly. Smaller beads of mercury can be picked up by a small paint brush covered in shaving cream. When managing mercury after a spill or leak, never use a broom or vacuum as vacuuming releases mercury into the air, and sweeping breaks the mercury into smaller beads, spreading them around and making them harder to clean up.

After all mercury has been safely removed from the infected area and properly bagged, the next step is to have the material sent to the nearest hazardous waste disposal site. Van Brocklin has confirmed that the materials were handled “in accordance with DEQ, EPA and OSHA regulations,” and were taken to a hazardous waste storage facility by Burkhart Dental Supply, the contractor the services the Amalgam Separator.

 

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