Risks associated with use and disposal of mercury are eliminated by using mercury free products. In applications where mercury free products are not available or suitable for the intended use products with reduced mercury content and improved recycling characteristics are preferable. Improving awareness of mercury hazards in biomedical facilities and encouraging the use of mercury free or low mercury products are primary objectives of our campaign.
Identification of Mercury Added Products
Mercury is an intentional component of a wide variety of reagents and equipment used in biomedical facilities. In many of these products, particularly those manufactured before recent state restrictions on mercury added products, the mercury content may not be indicated by labeling, inserts or other product information. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) may indicate mercury content but may not be required to list mercury added as a preservative or other in other uses requiring low concentrations.
Identification of Mercury Contaminated Products
In some products, mercury may be present in environmentally significant concentrations as an unintended contaminant. Products made by or derived from raw materials made by the chlor alkali process, which employs mercury electrodes are often contaminated with mercury. While use of the process in the U.S. is declining and being replaced by other processes that do not use mercury, some products manufactured by chlor alkali process are still widely available. These include chlorine, hydrochloric acid, sodium carbonate, sodium hydroxide, sodium hypochlorite (bleach) and sulfuric acid. In general, the concentrations of mercury as a contaminant in these products are well below those required to be listed on MSDS and vendors of these products may not even be aware of the presence of mercury. Users may need to contact manufacturers or conduct sampling and analyses of products to determine mercury concentrations. This is particularly important for chemicals used in water treatment and products such as bleach and other janitorial chemicals that are used in large volumes and ultimately disposed of via sewerage systems. Disposal of contaminated products may contribute to mercury accumulations in plumbing systems, development of antibiotic resistant bacteria and result in violations of wastewater discharge limits for mercury, which are very low in many jurisdictions. Limits of one part per billion (1 ppb) are common; in some areas the limit is as low as 1.3 ppt (parts per trillion).
The Division of Environmental Protection has tested some high volume products such as bleach available through NIH stores. Products with mercury content above the limits specified in the NIH Manual Chapter will be withdrawn from sale.
Restrictions on Procurement and Use of Mercury Applicable to NIH Facilities
On NIH owned or operated facilities procurement and use of chemicals, equipment and other mercury added products, and those with mercury contaminations above 100 parts per billion is now generally prohibited. There are some exceptions for uses where suitable alternatives may not be available. For information on these restrictions refer to NIH Manual Chapter 3033 http://www1.od.nih.gov/oma/manualchapters/intramural/3033/
State and local governments and publically operated wastewater treatment works may have more restrictive regulations governing the sale, use and disposal of mercury added and contaminated products than are found in the referenced NIH Chapter. NIH facilities located in these jurisdictions are subject to the more restrictive local requirements.
NIH Listing Information
The focus of our mercury elimination campaign is on chemicals, equipment and procedures commonly used in biomedical facilities and this is reflected in our listings of mercury containing items and alternatives.
Listings of mercury added and contaminated products previously on this website have been removed for updating. Below are links to other data bases and documents that provide extensive listings of these products. Users of these lists should understand that the mercury content of commercial products may be subject to frequent change. Consult with manufacturers and other reputable sources of information, or conduct analyses of products to confirm mercury concentrations. Users should also confirm that alternative products meet all applicable regulatory, protocol and performance requirements before being used in biomedical applications.
The NIH cannot promote or recommend specific products or manufacturers. Any mention of proprietary products on this website is for reference only and does not constitute recommendation or endorsement of these products. Information on vendors and contacts for obtaining mercury free or reduced mercury products may be available from the sources listed below .
The following charts list examples of mercury-containing equipment, reagents or procedures and low or mercury free alternatives.
Sources of Information on Uses of Mercury and Alternative
Environment Canada. Case Study: Replacing Histological Reagents Containing Mercury in Hospital Laboratories. http://www.ec.gc.ca/mercury/EN/cstudy.cfm
European Environmental Report on Phasing Our Mercury Sphygmomanometers for Professional Use. http://www.eeb.org/publication/2009/SphygReport_EEB_Final-A5_11Jun2009.pdf (PDF)
Legacy Product Website. Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association (NEWMOA) Interstate Mercury Education and Reduction Clearinghouse (IMERC). (The term “legacy product” refers to a mercury-added product that is no longer sold as a new product in commerce in the U.S., but may still be in use, may be resold as a used or antique product, or if not being used may be stored in homes or businesses). http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/projects/legacy/
Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization, Inc. (MASCO). An extensive, searchable data base on mercury concentrations in products http://www.masco.org/mercurydatabase
National Wildlife Federation. Mercury effect on Wildlife. http://www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Global-Warming/Policy-Solutions/NWF%20Poisoning%20Wildlife%20Report.ashx
National Wildlife Federation. Proper management of Mercury waste in Dental Office (PDF) http://www.mercvt.org/pdf/nwfdentalguide.pdf (PDF)
Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association (NEWMOA) Interstate Mercury Education and Reduction Clearinghouse (IMERC). http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/imerc/notification/
Purchasing for Pollution Prevention: Mercury Free Medical and Surgical Supplies. INFORM. http://www.informinc.org/fact_P3medicalsupply.php
Sustainable Hospitals Project: Mercury Sources and Alternatives in Health Care. http://www.sustainablehospitals.org/HTMLSrc/IP_Merc_Tools_List.html
Sustainable Hospitals Project: Selecting Mercury Free Thermometers. http://www.sustainablehospitals.org/HTMLSrc/IP_Merc_FTNonmerc.html
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Searchable database of publicly available information from various sources to help identify consumer and commercial products that contain mercury and their possible non-mercury alternatives. https://www.epa.gov/mercury
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Listing of State Medical/Dental Waste Programs. Includes links to state programs and regulations. http://www.epa.gov/waste/hazard/tsd/mercury/medical.htm
World Health Organization-Health Care Without Harm Global Initiative to Phase Out Mercury Based Medical Devices. http://www.mercuryfreehealthcare.org/