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:

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 to remediate. Spill reduction also avoids the disruption caused by school evacuations.


The Partnership to Reduce Mercury in Schools

More Information

Center for Environmental Health
Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment
Empire State Plaza-Corning Tower, Room 1743
Albany, New York 12237
(518) 402-7800 or (800) 458-1158