Protecting Public Health and the Environment.

What to Do If You Have a Mercury Spill

Quick Tips

  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Do not let anyone walk through the mercury.
  • Shut off heat or cooling to the affected area.
  • Open windows.
  • Do not vacuum or sweep.
  • For mercury spills larger than the amount in a thermometer, call 911.
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Common household sources of mercury emissions include broken or discarded compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and thermometers.

Cleaning Up Mercury Spills

What NOT to Do

Never use an ordinary vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury. The vacuum cleaner will release mercury vapor into the air and increase exposure. The vacuum cleaner will also be contaminated and have to be thrown away.

Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.

Never pour mercury down a drain. It may cause plumbing problems and cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.

Never wash mercury-contaminated items in a washing machine. Mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.

Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around.

How to Clean Up a Broken Fluorescent Bulb

  1. Have people and pets leave the room, and do not let them walk through the breakage area on their way out.
  2. Open windows to vent vapors and leave the room for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system to the affected area.
  4. Put on rubber, nitrile, or latex gloves.
  5. Use duct tape to pick up small pieces of glass and powder. Ensure all pieces of glass are picked up. When a CFL breaks, often the biggest hazard can be broken glass.
  6. Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or wet wipe.
  7. Place all materials in a sealed hard container.
  8. If the spill occurs on carpet or a rug, disposing of the rug or area of contaminated carpet may be required.  Mercury is not easily removed from carpets or rugs, so disposal is often the best solution to ensure the mercury is properly cleaned up.
  9. Carefully scoop up glass pieces and powder using stiff paper or cardboard.
  10. Wipe off all other hard surfaces (such as counters, floors, or shoes) that came into contact with the broken glass or mercury-containing powder. Soft material such as clothing can be washed as long as it did not come into direct contact with the broken materials. If it did, it can be disposed of in the same manner as the glass and powder materials.
  11. Immediately place all cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area.
  12. Wash your hands.
  13. Check to see if your community has a household hazardous waste program. If not, check with your local landfill to see how to dispose of the material.

The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window before vacuuming. Keep the systems off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming. After vacuuming the area for the first time, remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of in the same manner as the cleanup material.

How to Clean Up a Broken Mercury Thermometer

CFLs contain an average of 4 milligrams of mercury, about enough to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. By comparison, older thermometers contain about
500 milligrams of mercury. Therefore, different precautions should be taken when cleaning up a spill from a thermometer or a larger source of mercury than from a CFL.

  1. Have people and pets leave the room, and do not let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
  2. Open windows to vent vapors, shut all doors to other parts of the house, and leave the area for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system to the affected area.
  4. Put on rubber, nitrile, or latex gloves.
  5. Place a paper towel in a hard container. Pick up any broken pieces of glass or sharp objects and transfer them to the paper towel in the container. Seal and label the container.
  6. Locate visible mercury beads. Use a squeegee or cardboard to gather mercury beads in one location. Use slow sweeping motions to keep mercury from becoming uncontrollable. Take a flashlight, hold it at a low angle close to the floor in a darkened room, and look for additional glistening beads of mercury that may be sticking to the surface or in small cracked areas of the surface. Note: Mercury can move surprising distances on hard flat surfaces, so inspect the entire room when searching.
  7. Dampen a paper towel and place it in a hard container. Use an eyedropper to collect or draw up the mercury beads and squeeze mercury onto the paper towel. Seal and label the container.
  8. After you remove larger beads, put shaving cream on the bristles of a small paint brush and gently dot the affected area to pick up smaller hard-to-see beads. Alternatively, use duct tape to collect smaller hard-to-see beads. Place the paint brush or tape in a hard container. Seal and label the container.
  9. Place all materials used with the cleanup, including gloves and sealed containers, in a trash bag. Secure trash bag and label it.
  10. If the spill occurs on carpet or a rug, disposing of the rug or area of contaminated carpet may be required.  Mercury is not easily removed from carpets or rugs, so disposal is often the best solution to ensuring the mercury is properly cleaned up.
  11. If you choose not to clean up the spill yourself, you may want to request the services of a contractor. Call DEQ or your local health district to inquire about contractors in your area and to verify what monitoring equipment should be used.
  12. Remember to keep the area well ventilated to the outside for at least
    24 hours after your successful cleanup. Continue to keep pets and children out of cleanup area. If sickness occurs, seek medical attention immediately. View information on health effects of exposure to vapors from mercury. For additional information on health effects, see the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's Mercury Fact Sheet.

How to Clean Up a Larger Mercury Spill

  1. Isolate the area. Have people and pets leave the room, and do not let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
  2. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
  3. Open windows to vent vapors, shut all doors to other parts of the house, and leave the area.
  4. Call 911 to activate Idaho's Emergency Response Network, which consists of state and local agencies (including designated DEQ regional office personnel), and, if necessary, federal agencies.
  5. If the spill is greater than 1 pound (2 tablespoons), also call the National Response Center (NRC) at (800) 424-8802. Any time 1 pound or more of mercury is released to the environment, it is mandatory to call the NRC.

Disposal of Mercury-Containing Products

  • Separate mercury-containing products from regular garbage. Products with mercury include electronic equipment with monitors (including televisions), fluorescent lighting, thermometers, thermostats, old paint (pre-1991), and batteries (pre-1995).
  • Do not remove mercury switches from products such as thermostats; it is safer to store or recycle the product when it is intact.
  • Take any mercury-containing products that you have collected to your local hazardous waste collection facility. Ensure that mercury thermometers are well protected from breakage. Call your local municipality for information on where to take mercury-containing waste.

Staff Contacts

Pollution Prevention and Continuous Improvement Lead
Ben Jarvis
DEQ State Office
Director's Office
1410 N. Hilton
Boise, ID 83706
(208) 373-0146
ben.jarvis@deq.idaho.gov

More Information

Mercury Releases and Spills

Related Pages

Mercury Pollution Prevention