Accredited Environmental Technologies, Inc.         





Hazardous Material Surveys (HMS)

Mercury-Containing Items

Why is Mercury a Hazard?

Procedures to Cleanup Fluorescent Bulbs.

Inspirational Quotes

"Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties"
Erich Fromm

"It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all"
Edward deBono

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm"
Winston Churchill

Next newsletter topics

  • Energy Savings (CFLs)
  • PCBs
  • Asbestos/Lead


  • Shorter is Better
  • Targeted is Better



CONTACT..........Harris Brody, CIH at AET.

     AET can develop a site-specific program for your facility to properly handle, store, dispose and cleanup mercury sources.  The cost for properly handling and disposal of mercury-containing items during renovations and demolition is usually a small fraction of the project budget (


     Increasingly real estate developers are asking for an HMS to complement a Phase I ESA prior to purchasing a property. Remember per ASTM protocol, Phase I's do not include any quantitative sampling. Adding an HMS or specific Phase II requirement to the Phase I speeds up the clients decision-making and provides real cost results.

     At AET, HMSs are routinely completed in 1-3 days depending on the size and complexity of the property. HMSs include environmental contaminants such as:

  • Asbestos
  • Lead-Based Paint
  • PCBs
  • Mercury
  • Hazardous Materials/Chemicals


(1)    Fluorescent Light Tubes: These tubes provide lighting for most schools, office buildings and stores. They are significantly more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs. However, a 4' tube contains approximately 12 milligrams of mercury. Increased mercury amounts are found in 6' and 8' long tubes. A typical fluorescent light is comprised of a phosphor-coated glass tube with electrodes located on each end. Fluorescent lights operate by applying voltage to the electrodes which energizes the mercury vapor inside the tube causing it to emit ultraviolet energy. The phosphor-coating absorbs the UV energy, causing the phosphor to fluoresce and emit visible light. Mercury is contained within the tube but is problematic when it is broken or disposed of.

(2)    High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Lights: HID lights include both mercury-vapor and metal halide lights which are used primarily outdoors for street lights, flood lights, car lots, or indoors for large industrial spaces, gymnasiums and sports arenas. HID lights provide the highest efficacy and the longest service life of any lighting type. They can save 75-90% of lighting energy when they replace incandescent lights.

(3)     Thermometers, Thermostats, Switches: Older thermometers contain approximately 500 milligrams of mercury. Thermostats and switches contain only a small amount of liquid mercury.

(4)    Latex Paint: Until 1991, mercury was added to latex paint to slow the growth of bacteria and mildew. Exterior latex paint can have 3-4 times the amount of mercury compared to indoors. Mercury poisoning to children is well documented. In 1990, the EPA banned the use of mercury in interior latex paint. In 1972, the EPA banned mercury in paint for marine applications.


     Mercury is a heavy metal (odorless silver liquid) that readily evaporates into the air as a vapor at room temperatures. Mercury is a highly regulated toxin which effects the brain, central nervous system, liver, and kidneys. Exposure can occur from inhalation and ingestion; it is also absorbed through the skin. Mercury is particularly toxic to children and pregnant women and their fetuses. The OSHA standard for mercury is a PEL ceiling limit of 0.1 mg/m3.

     Mercury released into the air or soil will ultimately enter the surface water. It is known to bio-accumulate in fish. Eating fish contaminated with mercury is a major pathway for mercury poisoning. Approximately 40% of mercury emissions result from burning of coal to produce electricity at power generation plants.

     Mercury in lights and other items are contained; no mercury is released when the bulbs are intact (not broken) or in use. However, bulbs ultimately break during disposal at the landfill. Mercury is listed as a hazardous waste and regulated by EPA RCRA regulations with a limit of 0.2 mg/L. Recycling of mercury lights is controlled by the EPA's Universal Waste Rule.


Step #1: Anytime one pound (2 tablespoons) of mercury is spilled, you must contact the National Response Center at (800) 424-8802. Do not use a regular vacuum or broom during cleaning.  Do not put the mercury down the drain.

Step #2: Before cleanup, evacuate the area

  • Put on rubber, nitrile or latex gloves.
  • Don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on the way out
  • Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more
  • Shut off the HVAC system to the area

Step #3: Cleanup of hard surfaces

  • Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with a metal lid or in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Use sticky tape such as duct tape to pick up any remaining glass pieces or powder.
  • Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes, place tiles in glass jar or plastic bag
  • Do not use vacuum or broom for cleanup, regular vacuums merely disperse mercury vapor into the air since the filters cannot contain it.

Step #4: Cleanup on carpeting

  • Carefully pickup glass fragments and place in a glass jar with a metal lid or in a sealed plastic bag. 
  • Use sticky tape such as duct tape to pick up any remaining glass pieces or powder.
  • If residual dust or debris remains, contact AET.

Step #5: Disposal of cleanup items

  • Place all cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container
  • Wash your hands after disposing of the jars and bags
  • Contact AET for any specific disposal requirements in your area.

Note: Possibly the biggest immediate injury threat from broken bulbs is from the phosphor-coated glass. If any phosphor gets into a cut, it will likely prevent blood clotting and will interfere with healing. Treat such injuries seriously. Inform medical personnel that the injuries were caused by a broken fluorescent lamp and mercury was present.

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