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Chemical Waste Disposal


Mercury Disposal

Waste metals that will be reclaimed are not considered hazardous waste per the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Elemental mercury is one of the most common reclaimable metals found at Princeton.

Pure mercury liquid is sent directly to a reclamation facility for distillation and reuse. Mercury debris (e.g., broken thermometers, spill cleanup debris) is managed as hazardous waste, periodically collected by EHS personnel, consolidated, and sent for mercury retorting. Mercury compounds will also be handled as hazardous waste.

Disposal Procedures

  1. Collect pure liquid mercury in a sealable container.  Label as "MERCURY FOR RECLAMATION"
  2. Place broken thermometers and mercury debris in a sturdy sealable plastic bag, plastic or glass jar.  Be sure that materials may be easily removed for consolidation. Label the container "Hazardous Waste - MERCURY SPILL DEBRIS".
  3. Keep the material in your laboratory until the next scheduled waste pickup. This will occur during the January, April, July, and October routine waste pickups.
  4. Contact Joan Hutzly (609-258-6251) or Kyle Angjelo (609-258-2711) with any concerns or for advice on packaging elemental mercury or mercury debris for disposal.

Broken Thermometers and Mercury Debris

In the event that a thermometer, manometer or similar mercury-containing device breaks, proceed as follows:
  1. Put on a pair of nitrile gloves and eye protection.
  2. Pick up larger pieces of broken glass or debris taking care to avoid touching sharp edges. Place in a puncture-resistant container.
  3. Clean up any remaining mercury and small debris
    • Begin by picking up the droplets.  Use an index card or scraper to consolidate the droplets, and pick up the pool using a pipette, syringe or vacuum pump.  Do not use the house vacuum system. 
    • Commercial products such as zinc powder or coated sponges may also be used.  The sponges and powders require the use of an activator solution (mildly acidic) to be effective. 
    • Sulfur powder indicates the presence of mercury by turning from yellow to brown when sprinkled on an affected surface.
  4. Place the mercury in a glass or plastic jar or a sturdy plastic bag.  Only add visibly contaminated debris.  Seal the bag and affix a label identifying the material as “mercury spill debris”.
  5. Follow the mercury disposal procedures outlined above.
Please make sure to minimize the amount of debris involved.  If gloves or other debris do not visibly contain mercury, they do not need to be included with the other waste.

Precautions for Minimizing Mercury Incidents

  • Do not use mercury thermometers as stirring rods.
  • Replace mercury thermometers with non-mercury alternatives (see below)
  • Use secondary containment or a tray under mercury-containing equipment.

Non-Mercury Alternatives

There are a number of non-mercury alternatives for mercury-containing devices, such as thermometers. Consider replacing your mercury thermometers with non-mercury or digital thermometers.  In most cases, EHS will fund this replacement.  Contact Kyle Angjelo at 8-2711 for more information.

Fisher Scientific and Lab Safety Supply offer a range of non-mercury thermometer options.

If you have any questions contact EHS at 8-5294 for assistance.


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