Mercury Vapor Detection Equipment

Project Lead: Brandon DeFrancisci

Sponsor: Environment, Health & Safety

TGIF Grant: $4,497

Project Theme: Waste Reduction

Project Location

2011 Application Submission

Status: Complete

Background: The UC Berkeley Office of Environment, Health and Safety (EH&S) provides guidance and services to the campus community that promote health, safety, and environmental stewardship. A significant part of that work involves the accurate detection of mercury vapor in the air. This is done during clean-up after a mercury thermometer or other piece of equipment that contains mercury is broken or otherwise accidentally releases mercury to the environment. It is also done during renovations or demolition of antiquated laboratory space since mercury is often a contaminant found in plumbing, furniture and flooring in these spaces. In these situations, mercury is removed to the extent possible to avoid contamination of the waste stream and vapor detection instruments are used to assess the cleanliness of the debris. These releases also impact both the interior air quality of campus buildings and the outdoor environment extending to the sewer discharge that eventually leads to the bay and the air we breathe. Even though UC Berkeley continues to reduce the amount of mercury used in research, EH&S disposed of 325 pounds of mercury in 2010. In the from 2010-2012, EH&S’ spill response team responded to at least 13 mercury spills on campus. It is still present on the campus.

Project Description: This project purchased the MVI Mercury Detector, which provides more accuracy than the current technology for mercury vapor detection post mercury spill. It is also used to take readings of mercury levels in air during construction related demolition work in laboratory buildings. EH&S covered half the cost of the equipment.

Goals: Train applicable EH&S staff to use the technology. Alert faculty and graduate students in the School of Public Health Environmental Health Program that this technology is available. Track spills and readings to prevent mercury from contaminating air and water resources. Equipment will need less mechanical servicing than current technology and provide more accurate readings.

2011-2012 Accomplishments

  • The grant award from this project allowed EH&S to purchase an improved, more sensitive mercury detector with real-time reading capabilities.
  • The detector allowed EH&S to measure levels with greater sensitivity than its other instruments and provides more accurate exposure levels to the staff and medical professionals assessing exposure concerns.
  • UC Berkeley School of Public Health interns were able to use the equipment in their work and the faculty member who runs the Industrial Hygiene Laboratory class was notified of the instrument’s availability for all students.
  • The 2011-12 EH&S-School of Public Health intern became very well versed in proper use of the instrument after taking several hundred readings during the aforementioned exposure assessment. The intern then provided training to EH&S staff on the instrument.

Final Report