Priority Area: Healthy Environment - Healthy Indoor Environments
Hazardous Indoor Environments
People can be exposed to hazardous substances in air, soil, water, food and consumer products. The NYSDOH strives to understand the nature and magnitude of these exposures and to reduce or eliminate hazardous substance exposures through an array of advisory, outreach and regulatory programs.
- By the year 2013, reduce the incidence of mercury spills in schools to 3 per three years. (Baseline: 11 per three years, HSEES, 2000-2007 average)
Indicators for Tracking Public Health Priority Areas
The annual number of mercury spills in schools and progress towards reaching the Prevention Agenda Objective through mercury removal programs will be tracked so New York State residents can see how well schools are managing the storage, handling and removal of their mercury and mercury-containing items.
Data and Statistics
- Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) information on mercury spills in schools.
- Calls received requesting information and assistance in response to a school mercury spill.
Strategies - The Evidence Base for Effective Interventions
Mercury has no warning properties such as odor or eye irritation. Exposure to mercury following a mercury spill may occur from the spill or from associated mercury tracking (spreading on footwear) or the spread of mercury vapors throughout the indoor air via the building's ventilation system. Increased awareness about mercury can serve to prevent a spill through more careful handling and storage of mercury-containing items, and through a quick and appropriate response once a mercury spill occurs. A mercury spill that is not reported and handled correctly can lead to additional undetected exposure of others, even without extensive tracking. Strategies and activities to help reduce risks from mercury in schools are summarized in the following brochures, articles and reports:
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Final Report Pollution Prevention (P2) Grant: Reducing Mercury in Schools. [Last accessed 2/23/2009]
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Pollution Prevention (P2) Grant: NYSDEC- “Mercury-Free” Schools Program in New York State.” [Last accessed 2/23/2009].
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Final Report New York State Amendment to the RCRA Subtitle C Hazardous Waste Management Program Assistance Grant. [Last accessed 2/23/2009].
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Pollution Prevention (P2) Grant: “Continuing to Educate Schools on How to Be Mercury Free in New York State.” [Last accessed 2/23/2009].
- New York State Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES). [Last accessed 2/23/2009].
- New York State Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES). 2008. Mercury Spill Incidents Data and Resources - Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) 2008. A mercury awareness booklet for general audiences.
- Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA). Assistance and Pollution Prevention Results. February 2007. [Last accessed 2/23/2009].
- “Reducing Mercury in Schools” Brochure Series. A series of nine brochures developed to help school personnel identify mercury sources and reduce or remove the risk of a mercury spill. The brochures are developed in cooperation with many partners.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Schools and Mercury. January 2009. [Last accessed 2/23/2009].
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. State Mercury Schools Program. August 2008. [Last accessed 2/23/2009].
Return on Investment
Reducing or eliminating exposure to elemental mercury is important because this substance is toxic to the nervous system. This is particularly important for children whose systems are still developing. Reducing mercury spills also produces the monetary savings of not having to pay for a hazardous waste cleanup and disposal. In some mercury spills, air monitoring after the initial cleanup has indicated that the cleanup was incomplete and a second cleanup was needed, driving cleanup costs higher still. In one spill, the cleanup costs were approximately $24,000. The deliberate mercury contamination of a school in Washington, D.C. reportedly cost about 1.5 million dollars to remediate. Spill reduction also avoids the disruption caused by school evacuations.
More InformationNew York State Department of Health Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance
Flanigan Square, Room 330
547 River Street
Troy, New York 12180
Environmental Health Information Line: 1-800-458-1158 ext. 7810