Mercury in Schools
Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg. It is a dense, silver-gray liquid and is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature.
Mercury can be found in science and chemistry classrooms, nurses’ offices, and electrical systems in items such as thermometers, barometers, sling psychrometers, chemical compounds, blood pressure cuffs, medications, electrical switches, light bulbs, and thermostats. For a full list, reference this checklist.
It can also be found in various containers, typically glass jars, presumably from old mining operations and brought into schools by students or staff. Historically in the United States, mercury was used extensively in gold mining to increase gold recovery rates. Some of that mercury is still present in Idaho.
Necklaces and other jewelry containing mercury from Mexico have shown up in Idaho schools as well. Unaware of the hazards, students bring the fragile glass pendant necklaces to school. Learn more about mercury-containing jewelry.
When mercury is spilled, it comes into contact with air and evaporates into an invisible, odorless toxic vapor. Acute and chronic exposures to mercury can negatively impact cognition, personality, sensory, and motor functions. Of particular concern is the potential health risk to children, who are more sensitive to mercury than adults and spend an average of 30 hours per week in the classroom. Depending on the size and extent of a spill, mercury can also be extremely difficult and expensive to clean up. In fact, the cost of cleaning up a mercury spill can be 1,000 or more times expensive than properly disposing of the mercury in the first place.
Awareness and Education
Because there are currently no alternatives for some products like fluorescent lights, mercury is naturally occurring in the environment, and we cannot always control the actions of others, we may always have to be aware of mercury and how to manage it. However, mercury spills and exposure are not inevitable. With education, awareness, and enforced policies, we can promote proper handling and management of mercury and mercury-containing instruments, encourage local and affordable disposal and recycling options, preserve state and federal resources, and generate an understanding of the real health effects of mercury.
Mercury-Free Zone Program for Schools
There's no good place for mercury in schools. Take the Mercury-Free Zone Pledge and work to rid your school of this dangerous chemical element. Learn more.
How to Prevent a Mercury Spill at Your School
You can lessen the likelihood of a mercury spill at your school by replacing mercury-containing instruments and products with non-mercury alternatives, properly disposing of or recycling mercury-containing products, and implementing a no-mercury policy. Learn more.
How to Clean Up a Mercury Spill at Your School
What do you do if a mercury spill occurs? Keep students and staff away from contaminated areas and follow these procedures to clean up and avoid spreading mercury.
Mercury in Jewelry
Toy necklaces with mercury-containing pendants are intriguing to children, but they can present dangerous health and environmental hazards if they break. It is very important that school officials warn students not to purchase or bring mercury-containing jewelry to school. Learn more.