The fear of mercury spills is the number one concern in relation to mercurial sphygmomanometers. While contamination from mercury can be a major issue, mercurial sphygmomanometers contain less than 2 oz of 99.999% elemental mercury. The quantity contained in a single mercurial sphygmomanometer should not represent a major health hazard if cleaned up properly.
The first step that you should take when confronted with a mercury spill is to isolate the area where the spill occurred. Because mercury can break into beads that will roll into cracks and crevices, it is very easy to accidently spread spilled mercury around within a building.
Spilled mercury should be cleaned as quickly as possible due to the fact that it easily evaporates at room temperature. This can create invisible, toxic fumes that cannot be detected through the sense of smell. Short term exposure to these fumes will generally not have a lasting health impact on most individuals, but long term exposure to mercury vapors from larger spills or from mercury that has not been properly cleaned up can pose a serious risk to occupants of the building.
It is recommended that a mercury spill kit be kept on-hand anywhere that mercurial sphygmomanometers are in use. This will allow for the fast and efficient cleanup of any spilled mercury and the reduction of vapors. It is important to note that you should not sweep or vacuum contaminated areas, as this can agitate the mercury and cause it to evaporate more quickly. It will also contaminate the cleaning tools used and may cause mercury to be spread further.
In the unlikely event of a spill, it will most likely involve very small amounts of mercury (generally just a few drops). These smaller amounts may be picked up using special mercury absorbent sponges or gently swept into a collection container using a soft bristled brush. (Note: it is important to remember to dispose of the brush after use).
Carpet, crevices and other difficult-to-clean areas may be cleaned using a mercury absorbent powder that chemically bonds to the mercury to form a harmless, easily removed, amalgam. It is important to follow the instructions for use provided with these cleaning agents to ensure that all traces of mercury have been properly removed. When in doubt, contact a local company that specializes in cleaning such materials or your local EPA office for guidance.
Larger spills involving a pound or more of mercury can represent a more serious danger and should be handled professionally. If you experience a spill of one pound or more (generally the mercury content of four or more mercurial sphygmomanometers), you should contact your local EPA office immediately for guidance on the proper cleaning and decontamination procedures.
Mercury spill kits may be obtained from ADC or from any laboratory or safety supply dealer. Once these kits have been used, it is important to dispose of them properly to avoid contamination of the environment. Contact your local EPA office or recycling facility for guidance on the proper disposal of such waste.