Mercury is a persistent, bio-accumulative toxin with a complex environmental behavior in air, water, and soil. Mercury can cause a variety of harmful health effects including damage to the brain, central nervous system, and kidneys and is particularly harmful to children, prenatal life and infants through the toxin's exposure to both pregnant and nursing women. The element's unique and interesting properties have proven it to be a useful asset in a variety of laboratory and commercial practices. However, given that many safe alternatives to mercury exist, it is now understood that the overall health and environmental risk associated with its continued use far surpass any benefit.
Mercury is one of the most significant environmental toxins found in the United States, and has been targeted by the Environmental Protection Agency as a persistent global pollutant that must be reduced. The ability of mercury to bio-accumulate in the environment and tissue makes it particularly hazardous to humans and animals. Marquette's mercury reduction plan has been developed in order to reduce the risks and costs associated with mercury contamination. The University recognizes the threats presented by mercury and is committed to its reduction/elimination throughout campus.
In 2007 Marquette University embarked on mercury reduction program to address the serious environmental and human health risks posed by the release of mercury into the environment. The program sought to reduce the potential health and environmental risks to the campus and the surrounding community. The program involves replacing mercury thermometers and other mercury containing devices with non-mercury alternatives. The Department of Environmental Health & Safety worked with the University’s Laboratory Safety Group to ascertain and evaluate all mercury sources on campus and identify ways to reduce the use of mercury. A variety of uses of mercury-containing equipment were found, including fluorescent light bulbs, mercury containing switches, barometers, lamps, laboratory bubblers, and thermometers.
Without question, mercury is the most frequently spilled in the form of broken thermometers. The thermometer exchange program was initiated in order to eliminate this easily avoidable risk of laboratory contamination and costly cleanup. Safe, non-toxic and environmentally friendly thermometers are a perfectly viable alternative to mercury based units.
Mercury-containing devices are used in many laboratory settings. Mercury thermometers are commonly encountered, but other devices potentially containing mercury include manometers, sphygmomanometers, barometers, and electrical components. They are easy to use, relatively inexpensive, accurate, and reliable. Unfortunately, they are also fragile, increasing the likelihood of a mercury release if the devise is broken. The Mercury Reduction Program calls for all non-essential uses of elemental mercury to be eliminated from campus laboratories. EH&S provides the recommendations and goals in reducing the use of mercury and mercury containing devices in laboratories: