Mercury Spill & Response Information

 

The Ingham County Environmental Health Department will respond to residential household mercury spills and accept mercury and mercury containing devices through its Household Hazardous Waste and Clean Sweep Program.

Environmental Health Department
Call (517)-887-4312 (including after hours)

What Should I Do if Mercury has been Spilled?

Please contact Ingham County Health Department as soon as possible on
(517)-887-4312.
After hour callers will be directed to an emergency number.

Cleaning up a spill of elemental mercury should be done by trained professionals using the appropriate equipment.

When spilled, elemental mercury will separate into extremely small beads and will scatter widely. Elemental mercury is odorless. The beads are often too small to be seen easily. A professional will use a mercury vapor analyzer to measure the concentration of airborne (vaporized) mercury and track down small beads of mercury.

The Ingham County Health Department has trained staff and appropriate equipment to respond to most small spills.

Additionally, spilled mercury will cling to shoes, brooms, household items and can be easily spread further when you try to clean up a spill.

Spills over 1 pound (about two tablespoons) need to also be reported to state and federal authorities. Ingham County Health Department can assist you with this requirement.

While waiting for responders:
  • Secure the area of the spill, this means keeping people and pets from tracking through the area and possibly spreading the mercury further.
  • Do not try and collect the mercury unless adivsed to by responders.
  • Open windows to the room/area, if available.
  • Keep anyone (and pets) who might have come in contact with the mercury nearby until responders arrive. Responders can survey persons and pets for mercury to prevent them spreading the mercury further.
  • Follow any instructions you receive from responders on the phone.
The Ingham County Health Department will respond to any household mercury spill, regardless of size. We will also attempt a clean up of small, localized spills. Some mercury spills are more extensive than our staff or equipment can handle. Such clean-ups may have to be contracted to a private firm.

Ingham County Health Department personnel will always follow up with a report to the home owner. This will detail the investigation and any clean up activities.

Is there a charge if the County assists in cleaning up a spill?

There is no charge to Ingham County Residents for Ingham County Health Department assistance if a spill is below two tablespoons (e.g. a thermometer break).

For spills larger than two tablespoons the Ingham County Health Department is required to notify the State of Michigan. In such situations it is sometimes likely that charges will accrue.

How Do I Dispose of Mercury Containing Devices?

Mercury containing devices and bottles/jars of elemental mercury can be disposed of through the
Ingham County Health Department Household Hazardous Waste Program.

Most household spills of elemental mercury (thermometers and thermostats) can be cleaned up inexpensively, if addressed quickly. However, spills of mercury from bottles and jars or spills that are not addressed for several days can result in clean up costs running into the thousands of dollars. Not only can the clean up be expensive but the mercury exposure can result in significant health problems and prevent living at the home until the clean up is completed.

Ingham County Health Department encourages residents to avoid having elemental mercury and mercury containing devices in their homes. In the past many residents held onto containers of loose, elemental mercury (often retrieved from mercury devises such as thermostats) hoping to someday sell them to a recycler. The market for elemental mercury has been almost non-existent for several decades.

What Should I Do with a Broken CFL?

Complete instructions can be found at www2.epa.gov/cfl

Before Cleanup
  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
  • Shut off central forced air heating/air-conditioning systems.
  • Collect materials needed to clean up the broken bulb:
    • stiff paper or cardboard;
    • sticky tape;
    • damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces); and
    • a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.
  • DO NOT VACUUM.Vacuuming is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. Vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor.
  • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder. Scoop up glass fragments and powder using the stiff paper or cardboard. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag. See the EPA detailed cleanup instructions for more information.
  • Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.
  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area unti the materials can be disposed of. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
  • You can dispose of the materials with your household trash.
  • If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.

What to do if I Am Concerned about a Historic Mercury Spill?

Contact the Ingham County Health Department at (517)-887-4312 to discuss the details.

Where Can I Get Further Information on Mercury?

US Environmental Protection Agency:
includes basic information about mercury, health effects, environmental effects, laws and regulations, and more.

Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry:
includes detailed information about mercury and it's health effects, including medical information.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality:
information specific about mercury sources, exposures, remediation, and release prevention in Michigan.