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Most school science labs have widely eliminated use of elemental (metallic) mercury for experiments as well as mercury-containing thermometers, and manometers. However, inspections of labs still reveal its use despite the 2004 New York State regulation that prohibits all storage, use and purchase of mercury and mercury-containing devices in primary and secondary schools. This New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) law took effect on September 4, 2004.

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Mercury Exposure is a Health Concern

Metallic mercury is a silvery liquid metal that releases mercury vapor into the air at room temperature. Metallic mercury can cause serious health effects depending on the level of exposure. The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury. Metallic mercury vapors are more harmful than other forms, because more mercury in this form reaches the brain. Chronic exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus. Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems. The kidneys are also sensitive to the effects of mercury, because mercury accumulates in the kidneys and causes higher exposures to these tissues, and thus more damage.

Exposure to metallic mercury can occur by breathing mercury vapors or via skin contact with liquid mercury. Mercury vapor is colorless and odorless.

Mercury Inventory and Removal

Please carefully canvass your classrooms, preparation rooms, storerooms, under sink areas, and cabinets for bottles, jars or vials that contain mercury. Do not attempt to move or relocate these containers and devices or clean up any visible mercury yourself. Follow these mercury removal recommendations.

Notify the principal and custodian as to the location and amount and number of any containers or devices (mercury thermometers included). Complete the Chemical Removal Request Form and please include the room number and specific location within the room that the suspected mercury has been found. The administration and custodian will arrange for proper removal of these items.

What to do if you see beads of mercury or there is a spill

Accidental spills have happened when well-intentioned staff has moved mercury or mercury containing items. If you see evidence of mercury (such as beads of mercury) or if there is an accidental release or spill of mercury, IMMEDIATELY follow the notification procedures for your school. The UFT Health and Safety Department at 212-701-9407, the DOE Office of Occupational Safety and Health at 718-935-2319, and the DOE Division of School Facilities Environmental Health and Safety Department at 718-361-3808 should be immediately contacted.

Removal of mercury and mercury-containing items

A professional hazardous chemical removal company will remove these items. After any clean up and removal of mercury and mercury-containing items, a professional monitoring company will monitor for mercury vapor to verify that the area is safe for occupancy by students and staff.

We need your help and cooperation to ensure our schools are safe and free of mercury and mercury containing devices.