Mercury is one of the most dangerous hazardous contaminants in our environment and can be found in the air, soil, and water just about anywhere on earth due to it’s use in products and equipment before it was recognized and regulated as a toxic heavy metal. The use of mercury in manufacturing has declined but older commercial electric products and equipment can still contain mercury. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Universal Waste regulations encourages recycling and recovering mercury to stop mercury-containing devices from being land-filled or otherwise disposed of improperly. The EPA has adopted universal waste regulations that streamline management and disposal (recycling) of mercury-containing equipment and this category of universal hazardous waste is defined in 40 CFR 273.9,
The use of mercury was extensive in the past and many older products and equipment are still in use that use or contain mercury. Most times the owners and operators don’t even know the products or equipment they are using contains mercury but this lack of knowledge can cause mercury contamination and, in some cases, violations of state and federal laws since ignorance is no defense when it comes to waste regulations.
Example of commercial electronic products may still may use or contain mercury….
- Tilt switches
- Air flow/fan limit control
- Building security systems
- Chest freezer lids
- Fire alarm box switches
- Laptop computer screen shutoffs
- Pressure controls
- Silent light switches
- Temperature control (incubator/water bath thermometers)
- Maximum/minimum thermometers
- National Institute of Standards and Technology calibration thermometers
- Tapered bulb thermometers
- Devices utilizing a printed wire board (e.g., laptop computers)
- Energy production (coal-fired)
- Flow meters
- Sequential multi-channel autoanalyzers
- Speedometer systems
- Pressure gauges: (barometers, manometers, vacuum gauges)
- Reed relays
- Plunger or displacement relays
- DC watt hour meters (Duncan)
- Computer monitors
- Lead analyzer electrodes
- Cathode-ray oscilloscopes
This is just one category of possible mercury-containing equipment or products. Other industries that have a past in the use of mercury include consumer, medical, manufacturing, automotive, and construction products. This is why you should make sure that the dealer you’re getting your construction supply from is reputable.
>> More Information from the EPA
The universal waste rules require attention to details, labeling, training, record keeping, spill preparation, and other management practices. It is also very important to know what your state laws and regulations are regarding universal wastes and mercury-containing equipment.