Mercury Elimination Policy Update
Policies are sometimes a necessary evil. They provide clear guidance to those labs seeking direction regarding an important safety or environmental concern. They provide an administrative tool by which neglected safety or environmental problems can be corrected. And to the surrounding Indianapolis community, they demonstrate the University’s commitment to protecting human health and the environment.
The Laboratory Safety Committee Mercury Reduction/Elimination Policy is a good case in point. The University, in recognition of the widely-recognized acute and chronic hazards of mercury, decided in 2001 that it was time to make a concerted effort to eliminate all nonessential forms of mercury from the campus.
As a first step, an educational approach was implemented which included a brochure for distribution to campus laboratories. While a limited number of campus labs responded immediately by eliminating mercury from their inventory, the largest portion did not due to competing priorities.
In recognition of this challenge, the laboratory Safety Committee developed and implemented the Mercury Reduction/Elimination Policy in 2006 - which was phased in immediately thereafter. The policy sent a clear message that the elimination of mercury was a priority for the campus, and as such, its elimination needed to be an equal priority for each campus lab.
The policy defined circumstances where a laboratory can present a case that mercury is essential to its operational goals or that the replacement of such would be a significant financial burden. The policy established specific dates by which time a laboratory would need to secure an exemption to the policy or eliminate mercury from its inventory.
Following adoption, enforcement of the policy was immediately incorporated within the laboratory inspection program – first with an informational/educational approach followed by a more aggressive enforcement focus.
The policy coupled with the implementation strategy has been nothing but a success. A limited number of exemptions to the policy have been issued. Locations where mercury is being used in now documented and the users have offered their commitment to eliminate the mercury once the need no longer exists. Each year, the number of devises or compounds containing mercury discovered in campus labs has significantly declined as more and more cubbyholes are checked during the annual laboratory inspection process.
In recognition of the long-term hazard of mercury, the Mercury Reduction/Elimination Policy was recently adopted by the IUPUI Sustainability Steering Committee for campus-wide implementation.
At one time, mercury was the number one chemical item spilled on campus - bar none. Since the adoption of the policy, mercury spills are virtually a thing of the past. Equally important, the threat that mercury could present if released outside the University environment has been nearly eliminated.