Where is Mercury in Schools?
Where is mercury in
To reduce the presence of mercury at school,
you have to know where to find it. Interestingly, mercury
can be found in a lot of places, some can be obvious,
and some you might not expect. You would expect to find
mercury in science classrooms and the laboratory, but
you can also find it throughout the school, in the cafeteria
and in the nurse's office. It is worthwhile for schools
to replace mercury-containing equipment or choose to
purchase products that contain less mercury to reduce
the long-term impact on the environment.
Chemistry Class Rooms (Labs) Laboratories
Unlike other classrooms, laboratories
may have a lot of thermometers, air pressure gauges,
mercury compounds and elemental mercury for use by the
students. Mercury may have been used historically in
a school's laboratory, and the laboratory may still
have containers of mercury or mercury compounds in storage.
There are several mercury-free thermometers
available, including red alcohol and digital thermometers.
Generally, alcohol or electronic thermometers are sufficiently
accurate and readily available. If mercury is used in
experiments, often it is possible to use other chemicals
to illustrate the same chemistry principles, or do microscale
experiments to reduce the amount of materials necessary
and reduce the need to have large quantities of mercury
at the school. If mercury is used as part of the curriculum,
make sure to have a mercury spill kit available, and
that staff are trained in its use.
facilities and grounds
School classrooms and facilities may have
mercury containing thermostats, thermometers, barometers
and silent wall switches. It is simple and economical
to find mercury-free alternatives for these. Approximately
75 percent of thermostats currently in use contain mercury.
Electronic devices are often excellent alternatives,
though many digital devices may have mercury-containing
batteries, so it is best to use devices that allow you
to replace the batteries with batteries free of mercury.
lamps in the gymnasium and parking lot are generally
referred to as high intensity discharge (HID) lamps,
and they contain mercury. Even fluorescent and neon
lamps have some mercury. However, greater energy efficiency
of fluorescent lamps reduces the amount of mercury discharged
by power plants generating electricity. There are also
low-mercury alternatives that contain less mercury than
older the lamps.
Other items that contain mercury include
button cell batteries and old microwave ovens that could
be in the school's cafeteria. Newer microwaves do not
contain mercury. Batteries now contain much less mercury,
but the mercury content is still worth considering.
Button batteries may contain up to 25 milligrams of
mercury per battery. Some lithium button batteries may
be free of mercury. It is always best to send old lamps
and batteries to a recycling facility.
The janitorial and grounds staff also
need to be aware of the materials they are using. Old
latex paint produced before 1992 may contain mercury
to act as a fungicide. Pesticides produced before 1994
may also contain mercury. If old mercury containing
paints or pesticides are still at the school, dispose
of them properly as hazardous waste. Newer paints and
pesticides do not contain mercury.
The nurse's office may have the most elemental
mercury in the school contained in thermometers and
blood pressure measuring devices. Blood pressure gauges
or sphygmomanometers may contain several pounds of mercury.
Aneroid blood pressure devices and digital thermometers
are available, and are as accurate as mercury-containing
ones. There are certain nasal sprays and contact lens
solutions that contain thimerosal, phenylmercuric acetate,
or phenylmercuric nitrate. These compounds all have
mercury in them, and have mercury free alternatives.
Another way to help is to reduce your
energy consumption; explore the ways you and your students
can reduce energy consumption. For a full list of mercury
in schools, use the curriculum
or print out the checklist: Assessment
Checklist for Schools from NEWMOA