Mercury and Schools

Preventing and Cleaning up Spills

Mercury vapors are known to be toxic, and especially harmful to fetuses and young children because their nervous systems are developing. Even a small spill of mercury or an open vial containing mercury may contaminate the air in a classroom, creating a potential health concern.

Mercury is commonly found in chemistry and other science classrooms, school nurse offices, and in many building items, such as thermostats, electrical switches, and fluorescent bulbs. Some polyurethane-based gymnasium floorings also contain mercury, which may vaporize into the air and reach levels of health concern. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) estimated in 2001 that Minnesota schools had an average 4.7 pounds of mercury per school.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) staff toxicologists are available to provide consultation for schools about mercury exposures and health risks. MDH also works closely with the MPCA to provide information to the public about preventing mercury exposures.

School Mercury Spills: Avoiding a Costly Clean up and Protecting Public Health (August 2007) (PDF: 44K/2 pages)
Minnesota Department of Health

Mercury Spills in Minnesota Schools, 1995-2007 (PDF: 126KB/13 pages)
Minnesota Department of Health

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Other State Agency Resources

The New York State Department of Health and the Partnership to Reduce Mercury in Schools developed a packet of nine brochures to help school personnel identify mercury sources and reduce or remove the risk of a mercury spill. A Facility-Wide Inventory of Mercury and Mercury-Containing Devices (PDF: 504KB/4 pages) is included in the list of brochures. Because the needs and responsibilities of school personnel vary across departments, the brochures were written with a specific focus for each area:  

These materials were developed in cooperation with many partners interested in a healthy school environment and are intended to provide practical and cost-effective strategies. Visit the New York State Department of Health Mercury Brochures for Schools Web page to download the other brochures from this project.

To assist schools with preventing and reducing mercury exposures, the MPCA established the Mercury Free Zone Program. This Program has three primary goals: (1) removing mercury from schools in Minnesota; (2) identifying and encouraging the use of mercury-free replacement products; and (3) educating students, teachers and staff about the dangers of mercury. As of October 2008, the Mercury-Free Zone Program assessed 285 schools and removed over 3,376 pounds of mercury from schools in Minnesota.

Mercury in schools
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Schools and Mercury
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Mercury in Schools and Communities: Getting Mercury Out of Schools & Communities
Resources and tips for removing mercury from schools from Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA) (New England states)

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Drum-top bulb crushers

Drum-top fluorescent bulb crushers: Advice to Schools (November 9, 2007) (PDF: 41KB/2 pages)
Summary of a Minnesota Department of Health letter to schools through the Minnesota Department of Education on drum-top bulb crushers

(See additional information on drum-top bulb crushers on the mercury in light bulbs page.)

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Flooring

Memo to Schools: Off-gassing of mercury from some synthetic floors (August 23, 2007)
High Levels of Mercury (PDF: 23KB/1 page)
Minnesota Department of Health

Mercury in Poured-in Place Polymer Floors (May 2008) (PDF: 32KB/2 pages)
Minnesota Department of Health

Disposal guidance for mercury-catalyzed polyurethane flooring and subflooring (PDF: 224KB/7 pages)
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Mercury Flooring Testing and Mitigation: MDH Guidance for Environmental Professionals

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Flooring Technical Reports

Bethel University: Emissions from a Mercury-containing Gymnasium Floor: Mitigating exposures from mercury-containing polymer floors (Feb. 2008) (PDF: 695KB/32 pages)
This document provides technical information about emission and exposure models from which MDH has developed guidance for controlling or mitigating mercury vapor exposures from mercury-emitting floors.

Mercury-Containing Polyurethane Floors in Minnesota Schools (Sep. 2006) (PDF: 217KB/16 pages)
This document contains the initial information available on a few mercury-emitting floors in Minnesota.

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Updated Friday, 26-Apr-2013 16:17:55 CDT