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Mercury Spills

Handling Mercury Spills

Mercury is used in measurements and control systems such as thermometers and sphygmomanometers, dental practices, catalyst, antifouling paints, etc. Several researchers on Columbia University Medical Center have equipment containing mercury (thermometers) or use small quantities of mercury in their laboratories. There are chances that mercury spills may occur due to accidents. Small spills of this nature though do not pose any serious health hazards but should be cleaned up promptly. All major spills, however, must be reported to and cleaned by the professional staff of EH&S, who are trained to handle such spills. In such incidents, the area should be evacuated and ventilated, if possible.

In the case of a manageable spill:

  1. Contain the mercury with an absorbent sponge or powder.
  2. Package the spill waste or breakage in a plastic/glass container or sealable plastic bag.
  3. Label container with a hazardous waste label or write: "Hazardous Waste--Mercury" on the container.
  4. Store the container or bag in a chemical fume hood.
  5. Fill out an online Chemical Waste Pickup form.

Because of the high cost of disposal, CUMC's hazardous waste disposal vendor performs mercury pick-ups periodically. If your mercury waste has not been picked up, please insure that the materials have been properly labelled and stored and call EH&S to insure that your waste request has been received.

To clean minor spills, all labs that use mercury must have mercury spill kit. These can include mercury absorbent sponges and powders, vapor absorbent powders, small pumps and shovels, and bags or jars to contain any spills.

These kits are not expensive and can be ordered through:

  • Fisher Scientific by calling 1-800-766-7000 (7:00 a.m. to 9:00 PM) or on the Internet
  • Lab Safety Supply by calling at 1-800-356-0783 (6 a.m. to 9 PM, EST) or on the Internet at

For any questions or comments please call EH&S at (212)305-6780 for CUMC or (212)854-8749 for MS.