Mercury is a naturally occurring element that can be toxic to humans and wildlife. When products containing mercury are broken, thrown in the trash or thrown down drains, the mercury can enter and pollute our environment. Mercury-containing items are considered hazardous substances, and include: thermostats, thermometers, fluorescent bulbs, switches, button batteries (found in calculators, watches and hearing aids) and cylindrical batteries that were made before 1990.
Typical amounts of mercury contained in common devices are listed below:
- fluorescent lights: 8-90 mg
- thermostats: 3,000-6,000 mg
- silent switches: 2,600 mg (light switches manufactured prior to 1991)
The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was passed in 1986 to ensure that citizens (through local and state emergency/environmental authorities, typically called Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) are made aware of the chemical hazards present in their communities and are prepared to deal with chemical emergencies.
The reporting requirements of EPCRA generally apply when you are required to maintain material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and you have hazardous chemicals present at any one time in amounts of 10,000 pounds or greater, or extremely hazardous substances (EHS) above 500 pounds or their threshold reporting quantity (whichever is lower). The aggregate amount of each hazardous substance and extremely hazardous substance must be included to determine if threshold quantities are exceeded. However, EPCRA exempts substances in the same packaging/concentration as used in or purchased for home use, so, for example, some materials in the form typically purchased in a hardware store may not be reportable. Also, some other exemptions apply to certain types of research laboratories, hospitals or other research facilities.
The form the notification must take depends on what state or local authorities require. In some cases, a facility must submit an MSDS; in others, a letter with a list of the chemicals used at the facility is sufficient. Many fire departments and local emergency planning committees require, in place of the MSDS or list, that you submit a more detailed "Tier II" reporting form.
After inventorying chemicals campus-wide, the chemicals should be aggregated to determine if reporting thresholds have been exceeded. A facility is defined as: "all buildings, equipment, structure, and other stationary items that are located on a single site or on contiguous or adjacent sites and which are owned or operated by the same person (or by any person which controls, is controlled by, or under common control with, such person)." If facilities are non-contiguous, aggregating the chemicals must be done separately for each location.
Proceed through this section of the tour to learn more about the environmental regulations and the best management practices associated with mercury-containing items.