Elemental Mercury Manual

The Elemental Mercury Manual is a technical document assembled by the New York State Department of Health. Sources for materials in the manual include the New York State Department of Health and several federal agencies. The manual is intended as a reference document to help public health professionals respond to various mercury issues. It includes mercury health effects information, important clean-up considerations, and a listing of organizations and individuals to contact for environmental and clinical testing. Although the manual is accessible to the general public, it is intended for technical staff and some of the content is complex. The manual does not necessarily provide the types of reader-friendly information that can be found in the other materials.

Table of Contents

Why is Mercury a Concern?

The information in this section provides some background on elemental or metallic mercury, spills, exposure, and historical mercury spills in New York State. This background may be used to describe:

  • characteristics of metallic mercury,
  • some common circumstances where mercury may be spilled,
  • the likely health effects of mercury vapor, and
  • methods to reduce exposure to mercury

Some of this information is provided by The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), who may update it when and as they desire. It is recommended that users of this manual check with ATSDR or Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment (BTSA) for updates to these documents annually.

ATSDR ToxFAQs for Mercury (English, PDF, 86KB, 2pg.), ToxFAQs sobre el mercurio (Spanish, PDF, 179KB, 2pg.).

This fact sheet provides answers to the most frequently asked health questions about mercury.

NYSDOH Mercury Spill Incidents Data and Resources. Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES). June 2008.

This booklet provides data on elemental mercury, its health hazards, mercury spills reported in NYS from 2000 to 2005, mercury case studies and where to find more information on related topics.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2007. Elementary Mercury Releases Attributed to Antiques --- New York, 2000-2006. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 56(23): 576-579.

This article raises awareness that mercury found in some antiques and may cause an unexpected spill when the antique is moved.

(return to top)

Responding to Mercury Spills

The following information is intended for reference by health department staff responding either directly or as a resource to other agencies or the public dealing with an elemental mercury spill. The information in this section of the manual cannot cover every eventuality but should be comprehensive enough to allow the reader(s) to recommend procedures for all of the following tasks:

  • recognize and characterize the extent of mercury spill,
  • evaluate the level of response required for the spill,
  • monitor and direct the cleanup of the spill, and
  • refer the responsible parties to the correct resources for;
    • air sampling and ELAP laboratory analysis, and
    • clinical evaluation and CLEP laboratory analysis, and
    • disposal of mercury-containing products and wastes in compliance with the Rules and Regulations of the State of New York.

Mercury Spill Containment and Assessment (PDF, 103KB, 2pg.)

This section provides guidance on containing a mercury spill, assessing who should perform the cleanup and contact numbers for notification in the case of a mercury spill.

Cleaning Up a Small Mercury Spill

This section provides practical information on cleaning up a small mercury spill using readily available materials.

Measuring Mercury in Air (PDF, 108KB, 5pg.)

This section provides information on using field portable mercury detectors, collecting air samples and using laboratory analysis to measure mercury in air.

How Are Mercury Air Levels Interpreted? (PDF, 97KB, 3pg.)

This section summarizes suggested interpretation and responses to mercury air levels obtained using either field portable mercury detectors or certified laboratory analysis.

Measuring Mercury in Environmental Samples other than Air (PDF, 41KB, 1pg.)

This section describes the use of headspace screening of bagged belongings and collecting surface wipe samples.

Handling Broken Fluorescent Lamps Containing Mercury

This section describes the amount of mercury found in some fluorescent lamps, cleaning up a broken fluorescent lamp, and disposal of fluorescent lamps.

Wastes That Are Hazardous Due to Mercury (PDF, 54KB, 1pg.)

This section summarizes disposal information for mercury containing equipment.

(return to top)

Mercury Vapor Exposure and Potential Health Effects

Information in this section is provided as a resource for manual users who may want detailed information about:

  • assessing individual mercury vapor exposures using air, urine or blood mercury levels; and,
  • the health basis for recommendations in the "Responding to Mercury Spills" section of this manual regarding interpretation of mercury air levels when responding to a mercury spill (see tables "Suggested Interpretation and Responses to Mercury Air Levels Obtained Using Field-Portable Mercury Detectors" and "Suggested Interpretation and Response to Mercury Air Levels Using Certified Laboratory" in How Are Mercury Air Levels Interpreted).

Information contained in this section is useful for assessing mercury vapor exposure and for evaluating the potential for health effects based on air, blood and/or urine mercury levels. Information in this section is intended for reference primarily by health department staff and healthcare providers. Questions about any material in this section should be directed to the Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment at (518) 402-7800.

This information is provided for reference. Specific health questions about mercury should be referred to the Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment at NYS DOH.

Mercury and You (PDF, 57KB, 8pgs.)

This section provides general information about mercury use, mercury sources, mercury exposure and potential health effects.

Assessing Mercury Exposure (PDF, 96KB, 7pgs.)

This section summarizes the most effective way to evaluate a potential mercury vapor exposure and the potential for health effects.

Health-Based Air Concentrations for Mercury Vapor (PDF, 50KB, 5pgs.)

This section summarizes and explains the basis of health-based air concentrations for mercury vapor (based on long or short term exposure) useful for evaluating the potential for health effects.

Biological Exposure Indices (BEI) (PDF, 43KB, 2pgs.)

This section summarizes blood and urine mercury levels that are used to assess mercury exposure in occupational settings.

NYS Clinical Laboratory Evaluation Program (CLEP)

This section summarizes NYS laboratory certification requirements for biomonitoring for mercury in human blood and urine.

NYS Heavy Metals Registry

This section summarizes NYS Heavy Metal Registry purpose and reporting requirements for blood and urine mercury levels.

Occupational Health Clinic Network

This section provides contact information for NYS supported clinics with medical personnel who may be able to help assess possible mercury exposures.

Medical Management Guidelines (MMGs) for Mercury (Hg)

This section provides U.S. CDC/ATSDR contract information and the link to environmental case studies of mercury exposure.

Acronyms Used (PDF, 17KB, 1pg.)

This section provides a list of all acronyms used.

(return to top)

Laws of NYS Regarding Use and Disposal of Mercury and Mercury-containing Products

NYS DOH does not regulate the use or disposal of mercury and mercury-containing products. The documents in this section are from the NYS DEC web pages, which should be considered the most authoritative reference.

This section may be used for general reference on the mercury management laws in New York State. It contains some reprints of specific laws governing the use and disposal of mercury and mercury-containing products. Specific questions should be directed to NYS DEC Bureau of Hazardous Waste Regulation (800) 462-6553.

Mercury Management – NYS DEC

This section provides information about DEC’s multi-discipline approach to managing mercury.

Managing Mercury-Added Consumer Products in New York State – NYS DEC

This section summarizes sales restrictions, labeling, and proper disposal of mercury- added consumer products in NYS.

Mercury-Added Consumer Products Law – NYS DEC

This section summarizes the environmental conservation law Chapter 145, in relation to mercury- added consumer products and the associated amendments under Chapter 676 and Chapter 20.

Managing Dental Mercury – NYS DEC

This section provides guidance for dentist on managing mercury and amalgam wastes.

NY Dental Mercury & Amalgam Recycling Law – NYS DEC

This section summarizes the New York dental mercury and amalgam recycling law.

Chapter 611 Laws of 2006 – NYS DEC

This section summarizes the NYS law on mercury components in vehicles.

(return to top)

Additional Resources

NYS Environmental Laboratory Approval Program (ELAP) – Public Health Law Article 5, Title 1, Section 502

This link provides information about the New York State Environmental Laboratory Approval Program’s requirements for laboratory certification.

Mercury: Method 6009, NIOSH 1994 (PDF, 23KB, 5pgs.)

This document in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) method for sampling and analyzing occupational elemental mercury exposure.

Mercury Vapor in Workplace Atmospheres, Method ID-140, OSHA 1991

This document is the Occupation Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) method for sampling and analyzing mercury vapor in the workplace atmosphere.

Indoor Air Sampling & Analysis Guidance, NYS DOH February 1, 2005

This is a document developed by the New York State Department of Health and provides guidelines for indoor air sampling and analysis.

Chemical-Specific Health Consultation for Joint EPA/ATSDR National Mercury Cleanup Policy Workgroup (PDF, 363KB, 27pgs.)

This is a document developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATDSR) that provides action level guidelines for indoor air concentrations of elemental mercury and guidance for cleanup.

Portable Mercury Detector Testing and Evaluation Report

This is a document developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that reports the results of an EPA performance evaluation of portable mercury detectors’ ability to provide reliable clearance determinations following cleanup of an indoor mercury spill.

Mercury in Schools

This section provides resources to help school personnel and interested parties take steps to prevent a mercury spill and to respond quickly and correctly if a spill occurs. A quick response to a mercury spill is very important because it contains the spill and reduces exposure to mercury. A mercury spill that is contained also costs less to clean up.

(return to top)

For Additional Information

Please contact the Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment at 518-402-7800 or btsa@health.ny.gov