Mercury-Free UNC Policy


Mercury-Free UNC Policy


Mercury pollution is one of the most significant environmental toxins found in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a variety of public health organizations have identified mercury elimination as one of their highest priorities in recent years. When an elemental mercury spill occurs on the UNC Chapel Hill campus, a significant amount of resources are expended each year by University personnel in the remediation and clean-up. In addition, improper disposal and/or unrecognized or unreported releases of mercury are a threat to the community and can lead to significant regulatory consequences for the University. As a generator of hazardous chemical waste, UNC-Chapel Hill has an obligation under federal and state regulations and to the community to reduce the volume and quantity of mercury generated on campus. The University recognizes the threat presented by mercury and is committed to the reduction/elimination of mercury on campus.


For the purposes of this policy, "mercury" refers to elemental mercury. Principal Investigators and laboratory safety supervisors are responsible for identifying mercury containing devices or containers in their laboratory that should be eliminated. Departments are responsible for providing sufficient resources to provide alternatives and implement reduction/elimination of mercury from departmental laboratories. The Department of Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) is responsible for properly disposing of mercury waste from laboratories and educating the campus about alternatives.


At UNC Chapel Hill, only essential use mercury is allowed in campus laboratories. Essential use is defined as: a circumstance where no acceptable alternative for the current use can be located or where it is found that implementation of an alternative would create a significant long-term financial hardship to the department or research project. Laboratories wishing to maintain inventories of mercury can request an exception via EHS. In the event of a disagreement over the requested exception, the Laboratory and Chemical Safety Committee will be asked to review and make a decision regarding the request. Laboratories are required to list all essential use mercury on their Lab Safety Plan under the Schedule B - Hazardous Chemicals section. Any spills involving mercury should be reported immediately to EHS, 919-962-5507. For non-elemental mercury (inorganic mercury salts, organic mercury compounds), laboratories should add substances to their chemical inventory and inquire with EHS whether a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is required as part of the Laboratory Safety Plan.


EHS cites mercury reduction/elimination non-compliance via Collaborative Laboratory Inspection Program (CLIP) inspections.

Program Oversight

EHS and the Laboratory and Chemical Safety Committee will serve as technical resources for the implementation of this program. EHS will be responsible for all mercury spill clean-ups on campus.

Potential Mercury-Containing Equipment and Supplies

  • Barometers
  • Blood gas analyzer reference electrodes
  • Bubblers/traps
  • Cathode-ray oscilloscopes
  • Coulter counters with manometers
  • Diffusion pumps
  • Dropping Mercury Electrode (DME) technique for polarography and voltammetry
  • Electron microscopes
  • Hydrometers (used to measure specific gravity)
  • Lamps, cold/hot cathode germicidal, fluorescent, high-intensity discharge (HID), high-pressure sodium vapor, metal halide, slimline germicidal, spectral and ultraviolet (UV)
  • Lead analyzer electrodes
  • Manometers for calibration
  • Mercuric oxide batteries in blood analyzers, oxygen analyzers, pagers and temperature alarms
  • pH meters
  • Pigmented plastics, red bags and red blood tube caps
  • Sequential Multiple Analyzers with Computer (SMAC)
  • Sphygmomanometers
  • Switches in lab equipment
  • Telemetry instruments
  • Thermometers for freezers, incubators, lab ovens, refrigerators and water baths
  • Thermostats in incubators

Source: University of Minnesota

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Article ID: 132046
Thu 4/8/21 9:22 PM
Tue 10/31/23 1:18 PM
Responsible Unit
School, Department, or other organizational unit issuing this document.
Institutional Integrity and Risk Management
Issuing Officer
Name of the document Issuing Officer. This is the individual whose organizational authority covers the policy scope and who is primarily responsible for the policy.
Issuing Officer Title
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Executive Director
Next Review
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09/23/2020 12:00 AM
Last Review
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09/24/2019 2:52 PM
Last Revised
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09/24/2019 2:52 PM
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09/24/2019 2:52 PM
Date on which the original version of this document was first made official.
06/12/2019 2:35 PM