Institutional sources of mercury pollution have been identified, and various efforts have been made to reduce the use of mercury-containing equipment and chemicals by hospitals, schools, universities and dental offices. Outreach has also been conducted to educate these institutional users about proper disposal of mercury and mercury-containing equipment and products, as well as effective containment of potential mercury spills.
Historically, in hospitals and medical facilities, mercury was used in glass thermometers, blood pressure cuffs and other laboratory and medical equipment. Regional San, with support from the California Department of Health Services, teamed up with area hospitals to identify sources of mercury pollution and replace these items with mercury-free equipment.
Additionally, local hospitals and medical facilities were trained about proper disposal of mercury-containing products and improved management of mercury spills. Sampling conducted since this outreach has shown that hospitals and medical facilities are not a significant source of mercury in wastewater in the Regional San service area.
For more information on ways to reduce mercury pollution in the healthcare industry, please see the California Department of Health Services’ Hospital Pollution Prevention Program.
Schools and Universities
Schools and universities have also been identified as potential sources of mercury pollution, particularly chemistry labs. In 2001, California took an important step to reduce mercury pollution by passing the Mercury Reduction Act (SB 633) to encourage the safe reduction and/or removal of mercury and mercury-containing items found in local schools. This law, which became effective on January 1, 2002, prohibits any school from purchasing devices and materials containing mercury for use in classrooms and labs, with some exceptions.
In addressing the need for identifying and removing mercury and mercury-containing items from schools in the Sacramento area, the Be Mercury Free program conducted a School Mercury Clean-Out Program in 2005. The purpose of the program was to remove mercury and mercury-containing items from selected schools in the Sacramento region. In addition, for each mercury thermometer collected from the participating schools, a replacement alcohol-filled thermometer was provided at no cost. Six schools participated in the program, and during the clean-out, a variety of items were collected, including lab thermometers, barometers and chemicals.
Regional San now estimates that only about 1 percent of the mercury being discharged to the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant comes from local education facilities. As a result, outreach to the schools has been reduced.
Dental amalgam waste from silver fillings is a significant source of mercury in wastewater. Regional San has developed a program, Amalgam Recovery: Commit to a Greener Solution, that specifically targets the dental community. By following industry-approved best management practices, dental offices can do their part to help reduce mercury in our waterways—and get certified as a Sacramento Area Sustainable Business for their efforts.