In high school, mercury was merely an element on the periodic table. In the real world, it’s a valuable chemical used by businesses in countless facilities across the country.
Yet, while mercury is very helpful, it’s also very dangerous.
Toxic to humans and wildlife, mercury can be found in numerous items, including thermostats, barometers, manometers, temperature gauges, pressure gauges, and mercury switches (such as light switches in automobiles).
Because mercury is so common, it is imperative that it is managed and disposed of properly, as its release into the environment could have devastating consequences for anyone–or any thing–that encounters it. Luckily, disposing of mercury is not difficult–as long as certain guidelines are adhered to, that is.
In 2005, the EPA added Mercury-Containing Equipment (MCE) to its universal waste program, which makes it easier to dispose of common waste items. Other materials classified as universal waste include batteries, pesticides and fluorescent bulbs.
Under universal waste guidelines, handlers of MCEs must follow requirements outlined in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which provides disposal rules for other federally regulated hazardous materials.
In essence, handlers must manage MCEs in a way that prevents the release of mercury or other universal wastes into the environment. Handlers must place MCEs into closed and structurally sound containers that show no evidence of leakage, spillage, or damage (or leakage, spillage, or damage that could be caused under reasonably foreseeable conditions).
Many MCEs are placed in ampules, which are airtight vials made of glass, plastic or metal. They can–and must–prevent the escape of mercury into the environment.
Handlers must mark or label each container or ampule to identify the type of universal waste being stored. Possible options include “Universal Waste-Mercury Containing Equipment,” “Waste Mercury-Containing Equipment,” and “Used Mercury-Containing Equipment.”
All MCE waste should be disposed of as quickly as possible–and certainly within one year of waste creation. An extension is sometimes allowed, but your mindset should be a simple one: The quicker, the better.
Your business should also create a mercury clean-up system that is readily available in case of any spills or leaks from broken MCEs or broken containers or ampules of MCEs.
As you can gather, mercury–and any piece of equipment containing it–should not be taken lightly and should be handled with the utmost care and respect. Please contact Hazardous Waste Experts at 800-936-2311 for more information on how to responsibly and efficiently manage, store and dispose of MCEs.