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Where is Mercury in Schools?

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Where is mercury in schools?

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.

Science and Chemistry Class Rooms (Labs) Laboratories science equipments

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.

Classrooms, 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.

fluorescent lampsThe 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.

Nurse's Office

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

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Last revised: October 10, 2003