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Facilities Planning

Mercury Q&A for Schools

Department of Environmental Conservation - S. 7399

Mercury-Added Consumer Products

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) law affecting the presence and use of mercury and mercury-added products in all New York State elementary and secondary schools took effect on September 4, 2004 (Senate Bill 7399-B).

Mercury is a metal that occurs naturally in the environment in several forms. The most common form, metallic or elemental, is a silvery, odorless liquid. Elemental mercury can evaporate at room temperature to form a vapor. Mercury can escape to the environment when items containing mercury are broken or thrown away.

Exposure to high levels of mercury can damage the nervous system and kidneys. Exposure to mercury is particularly a concern in children and unborn babies because their nervous systems are still developing, and the nervous system is a target organ for mercury. Health effects might include brain damage, behavioral, and developmental problems.

Question: May elementary and secondary schools use or purchase elemental mercury (mercury as a silvery-white liquid at room temperature) after September 4, 2004?

Answer: No. It is recommended that existing elemental mercury that is already present in schools be removed. To remove mercury or mercury-added products, DEC hazardous waste regulations must be followed.

Question: Are schools required to stop using and disposing of mercury fever thermometers, mercury body thermometers, science thermometers, and other mercury-added equipment by September 4, 2004?

Answer: No. Existing thermometers may continue to be used; however, if a mercury thermometer is replaced, it must be replaced with a non-mercury thermometer, unless a mercury fever thermometer is prescribed by a physician. If mercury thermometers are broken, they must be cleaned up and disposed of properly. Any mercury-added product that is discarded must be disposed of according to DEC regulations.

Question: Does this new law affect existing building mechanical systems that may contain mercury - such as switches, and thermostats?

Answer: No. Mercury-added consumer products, such as switches, thermostats, fluorescent bulbs, and electrical relays, may be left in place. If these products are replaced, they must be disposed of properly. After July 12, 2005, any replacement mercury-added consumer products must be labeled by the manufacturer indicating the presence of any mercury.

Question: What is the proper method for disposing of elemental mercury or unneeded mercury-added consumer products?

Answer: To dispose of mercury or mercury-added products, DEC hazardous waste regulations must be followed.

Question: Is guidance available on mercury awareness and alternatives to elemental mercury in the classroom?

Answer: Yes. The EPA has posted mercury information and awareness documents on its website

Question: Are there additional resources available on mercury in schools?

Answer: Below are the additional resources available on mercury in schools