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Disposal and Site Cleanup of Mercury Spills

Spills

When mercury- also known as quicksilver-is exposed to air, it gives off vapors that, under some circumstances, can build up in indoor air at high enough concentrations to pose health risks to occupants. Air vapors from spilled mercury can also eventually settle onto water, increasing the mercury levels in fish. Therefore, it is important to clean up mercury spills properly and to report them to the proper authorities when necessary.

During a mercury spill, you will see that mercury breaks into tiny beads that roll, and can easily become trapped in small cracks in the surface. A mercury spill can be cleaned with minimal effort, if the proper instructions are followed.

What to do if you have a mercury spill

Spills: Less than or equal to the amount in a thermometer
Spills: More than the amount in a thermometer
Spills: Greater than one pound (two tablespoons)

What NEVER to do with a mercury spill

Never use a broom or vacuum cleaner...
Never pour mercury down a drain or use a washing machine...
Never let kids and pets near...

Disposal

Humans use mercury in a variety of manufacturing processes and products such as thermometers and fluorescent lamps. If you improperly dispose of containers with mercury in them, they may break and release mercury vapors, which are harmful to human and ecological health. Mercury vapors released in the air eventually settle into water or onto land where they can later be washed into water. Proper disposal of used mercury-containing or mercury-contaminated items is therefore important to protect human health and the environment.

Many states and localities have household hazardous waste collection programs. Opportunities for the safe disposal of mercury may vary depending on where you live. Many states and local agencies have developed collection/exchange programs for mercury-containing devices, such as thermometers, manometers, thermostats, and fluorescent light bulbs

With regard to mercury wastes generated by industry, the EPA's Land Disposal Restrictions (LDR) Program regulates how hazardous wastes are managed and disposed. Households are exempt from Resource Conservation and Recovery Act hazardous waste regulations under the household waste exclusion (see 40 CFR 261.4 (b)(1)).

The EPA's Universal Waste regulations streamline collection requirements for certain hazardous wastes in the following categories: batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment and lamps. These wastes are subject to special management provisions intended to ease the management burden and facilitate the recycling of such materials. On August 5, 2005, EPA finalized a rule adding mercury-containing equipment as a new universal waste category.

For details on how to treat and manage mercury-containing debris, see the memorandum Treatment Standards for Mercury-Containing Debris.

Site Cleanup

At site cleanups of active facilities or abandoned hazardous waste sites, mercury presents significant environmental challenges because it is difficult to treat, exists in many different forms, is volatile, and can be difficult to analyze. Some mercury contamination sites are also contaminated with oils, radioactive materials and organic compounds that present technical challenges.

Cleaning up mercury contamination at active facilities or at abandoned hazardous waste sites and preparing the land for redevelopment or redeployment happens through a variety of EPA programs. The EPA is improving the coordination, speed, and effectiveness of cleanups at the nation's contaminated sites through the One Cleanup Program. This Program is the EPA's vision for how different cleanup programs at all levels of government can work together to meet that goal and ensure that resources, activities, and results are effectively coordinated and communicated to the public. EPA accomplishes this work in partnership with state, local and tribal governments and responsible parties. For more information about the various cleanup programs managed by EPA, click on the following links:

EPA Cleanup and Redevelopment Programs:

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Superfund is the Federal governments program to clean up the nations uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

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RCRA Corrective Action is the program responsible for the cleanup of hazardous waste contamination that may occur as a result of accidents or other activities at active facilities managing hazardous wastes. Most states are authorized to implement the Corrective Action Program, and they use it as a tool to address the cleanup and revitalization of our nation's hazardous waste sites.

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EPAs Federal Facilities Restoration and Reuse Office facilitates cleanups at federal facilities, such as Department of Defense and Department of Energy properties.

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EPAs Brownfields program facilitates assessment and cleanup of abandoned or under-utilized sites where actual or potential contamination and liability may be impeding development.

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EPAs Technology Innovation Office advocates more effective, less costly approaches (i.e. smarter solutions) by government and industry to assess and clean up contaminated waste sites, soil, and groundwater.

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EPAs Office of Emergency Management implements portions of The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). EPCRA establishes requirements for federal, state and local governments, Indian tribes and industry regarding emergency planning and Community Right-to-Know reporting on hazardous and toxic chemicals.


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