Schools and Mercury

What Schools Should Do

  • Remove mercury and mercury compounds from your science laboratories.
  • Replace thermometers that contain mercury with safer products.
  • Replace fluorescent lights with LEDs. Take fluorescent bulbs to approved recycling collection.

Washington Law

The Mercury Education and Reduction Act (Chapter 70.95 RCW - Mercury) regulates the sale, use, and disposal of mercury-containing products in our state. Mercury released from these products builds up in our environment, particularly in fish, or can expose people who inhale mercury vapor from spills. The Mercury Education and Reduction Act requires labeling of mercury containing light bulbs, bans the sale of most mercury containing products, and states:

“A school may not purchase for use in a primary or secondary classroom bulk elemental mercury or chemical mercury compounds. By January 1, 2006, all primary and secondary schools in the state must remove and properly dispose of all bulk elemental mercury, chemical mercury, and bulk mercury compounds used as teaching aids in science classrooms, not including barometers.”

Disposal Options

All mercury and mercury compounds must be disposed as dangerous waste through a hazardous waste hauler or a permitted county or city dangerous waste collection program. These programs/contractors will ensure the mercury is properly managed. Your Educational Service District or local dangerous waste program may assist with recycling and disposal options. Clean Harbors Environmental Services (1-800-444-4244) has a state contract and can pick up mercury and other dangerous materials from schools.

Liquid mercury will dissolve steel, aluminum, and other metals so it must be stored in either plastic or glass containers. Put the mercury in a small, sealed container, and then put it in a second, larger sealed container. Dangerous waste disposers may be able to provide proper storage containers for mercury until it can be shipped.

Donating waste mercury compounds, thermometers, or liquid mercury is not allowed. The school may take on liability if the donated items were mismanaged.

More Resources

Mercury Reduction in Washington, Department of Ecology

Mercury, EPA

Cleaning Up a Broken CFL, EPA

Mercury Spills and Cleanup, ATSDR

Content Source: School Environmental Health and Safety Program and Environmental Toxicology Program