Mercury

Mercury is a potent nerve toxin that affects the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver. When managed correctly, mercury is not considered to be a general health threat to children in schools. However, it’s not unusual for children to find mercury in a school and then spill or dump it in the school, on buses or at home. Under some circumstances, such a spill can lead to toxic exposure levels.

Eliminating mercury is cheap insurance. By doing so, schools can avoid costly cleanups. Mercury cleanups can cost $5,000 to $250,000 and typically include short-term school closures.

Schools typically have mercury-bearing thermometers and barometers in their laboratories and mercury-bearing blood pressure cuffs and fever thermometers in their nursing stations. Mercury and mercury-containing chemicals may be on lab and storeroom shelves. Mercury may have accumulated in floor drains or sink traps. There may also be mercury spills that need to be cleaned up.
Mercury pollution in schools comes mostly from broken lab and fever thermometers. Broken fluorescent tubes are another source. And, “forgotten” mercury in drawers and cabinets can give off vapor into the air or get into the waste stream.

There is no longer any reason to have mercury (other than energy-saving fluorescent lights) in schools. Effective alternatives exist for all mercury-bearing laboratory and health-care equipment.

Resources

Healthy Schools: Mercury in Schools – The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) staff toxicologists are available to provide consultation to schools about mercury exposures and health risks. MDH also works closely with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to provide information to the public about preventing mercury exposures.

Mercury-Free Zone Program – Minnesota Pollution Control AgencyThis program, which is free for schools, includes a school audit, a school pledge, educational tools and a visit from Carol Hubbard and Clancy the mercury-sniffing dog – an invaluable local resource.

Schools and Mercury – US Environmental Protection Agency –

Mercury Brochures for Schools – New York State Department of Health – Easy to read brochures about the basics of mercury in schools for Superintendents, Facilities Managers, Science Teachers, Nurses, and more.

Sample Resolution for Mercury-Free Purchasing and Purchasing Policy

Mercury in Schools – North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ extensive list of resources on mercury in schools.

Mercury in Schools – The University of Wisconsin Extension’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Education Center developed this mercury in schools website including: mercury recycling information, mercury management in schools, educational materials for students, the latest information on mercury sources, health advisories and reduction programs, cultural uses, mercury at home, mercury in the community, environmental impacts and the history of mercury use.

Mercury-Free Alternatives for Schools

Mercury: In Your Community and the Environment – (pdf, 49pp) Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Mercury Resources – Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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