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Laboratory Services
The University of Mississippi

Mercury Disposal and Cleanup Procedures

Disposal of Mercury

  • Although most mercury containing compounds are regulated as a hazardous waste, mercury metal is collected for recycling by Health and Safety personnel.
  • Whenever possible, Mercury metal should not be mixed with other chemicals (except water).
  • Collect Mercury in clean containers with tight fitting lids.
  • Always use a secondary container, such as a pan or bucket.
  • Label the container “used Mercury” and process a Request for Disposal (pdf file) as you would for any hazardous material.

Mercury Spills and Broken Thermometers

The most common accident involving Hazardous Materials on the campus involves a broken thermometer or a spill of a few drops of Mercury.

  • Always respond promptly to a spill or accident involving hazardous materials.
  • If you have been properly trained by your supervisor, you may clean up a small chemical spill with the assistance of other personnel in your area.
  • A small spill is defined as a spill where :
    • There is little threat to human health personnel property or to the environment, and;
    • There are no injuries beyond what simple first aid can manage, and;
    • The characteristics and the hazards of the material are known, and;
    • You have both the supplies and the knowledge necessary to clean up the materials.

If your spill does not fit all of the specifications above, you have a Large Spill.

  • Report injuries to the University Police at 915-4911 immediately.
  • Contact Health and Safety at 915-5433.
  • Tend to injured personnel if you can do so without causing harm to yourself.
  • Leave the area of the spill.

Short term exposure to a small amount of mercury while cleaning up a thermometer spill in a large room will not pose a severe health risk. If you feel that you are unable to clean up the spill, consult with someone in your area or contact Health and Safety at 915-5433 for advise.

  1. Always wear eye protection and appropriate gloves during a cleanup;
  2. Remove all uncontaminated glassware and other materials out of the way. Materials that are not contaminated should not be packaged as hazardous waste;
  3. Collect any contaminated glass in a puncture resistant, separately labeled, container for disposal;
  4. Never use a vacuum cleaner to collect mercury. This will only disperse the mercury into the air;
  5. Never use the lab vacuum system (without a suitable trap) to collect mercury – you can contaminate the entire vacuum system;
  6. Use commercial mercury spill kits, and follow manufacturer’s instructions, if available;
  7. Droplets can be moved together with a piece of paper, cardboard or any similar material. Pool the material to facilitate the collection of material. Using a disposable syringe or a disposable pipette, collect the material into a container. Duct tape or moist paper towels can also be used to collect small droplets;
  8. Package the mercury and contact Health & Safety as recommended above.