Mercury Spills

Handling Mercury Spills

Mercury is used in measurements and control systems such as thermometers and sphygmomanometers, dental practices, catalyst, etc. Several laboratories on Columbia University campuses have equipment containing mercury (thermometers) or small quantities of mercury for use in experiments. Thus, there is a possibility that spills may occur due to accidents while handling mercury/mercury containing equipment. Small spills of this nature 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.
  3. Label container with a hazardous waste label or write: "Hazardous Waste--Mercury" on the container.
  4. Store the container in a chemical fume hood.
  5. Fill out an online Chemical Waste Pickup form. 

All labs that use mercury must have a mercury spill kit to clean minor spills. These spill kits 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: