Mercury Spill Response-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mercury Spill Response

Despite our on-going (as in, it is still going on!) replacement program for mercury thermometers, there are still labs with these items present.  And they still break from time to time.  If you insist you need your mercury thermometers, please be sure that you have a strategy for cleaning up spilled mercury.  Here is some information from the New York State Department of Health on the subject:
Plan ahead if you have mercury-containing items in your lab - get a Mercury Spill Kit

Mercury spill clean-up kits are available for purchase from laboratory equipment suppliers. Carefully follow all the directions provided in the kit.
These mercury spill kits generally contain powders or amalgams, and suction devices. Additionally, it is recommended that you collect the items listed below and keep them with the kit.

List of what can be used to clean up a mercury spill:
  • latex or vinyl gloves
  • flashlight
  • zipper-type plastic bags (several)
  • plastic trash bags (at least two)
  • wide tape (masking, duct or clear)
  • paper towels
  • eyedropper
  • two index cards or pieces of stiff cardboard
  • sulfur powder (see below for details)
  • mercury amalgam
  • water to moisten paper towels


  1. Wear gloves to carefully pick up the larger pieces of broken glass and what remains of the broken device and place them on a paper towel. The flashlight helps you find them all.
  2. Use the eyedropper or suction device to collect mercury beads and place them in the plastic bag. Duct tape can also help with this and the index cards can help “corral” the mercury drops where you can suck (or tape) them up.
  3. Sprinkle sulfur powder over the contaminated area and rub it gently all over the surface with a paper towel.
  4. Dispose of all mercury and all items contaminated in a waste bag for hazardous waste removal.  This includes your cards, tape, gloves, paper towels, and of course, the mercury waste.
  5. Place a Hazardous Waste on-line request to dispose of the contaminated and waste materials.