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Reducing Mercury in Schools - A Pilot Project

To promote public awareness on the presence of and the public health issues concerning mercury in school environments, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) Pollution Prevention Unit (PPU) successfully conducted a pilot program to remove mercury from schools in the city of Rochester and from school districts throughout Albany County.

Suzanne Wheatcraft holding a jar containing mercury

This project was funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and built upon the foundation laid by PPU's previous outreach effort to provide informational workshops on mercury-free schools in New York State.

DEC's PPU staff assisted, and in some cases, actively participated in the inventorying, collection and disposal/recycling of elemental mercury and mercury-containing items from the participating schools. At the end of the project, 601 pounds of mercury was removed from 48 schools.

A second component to this pilot project provided for the replacement of mercury-containing items with viable mercury-free alternatives.

The main "lesson" that we learned from our clean out experience with the Rochester City and Albany County school districts is that it is very affordable!! This is especially relevant to schools on a tight fiscal budget.

The average cost per school in the Rochester City School district was $56 per school, while in Albany County the average cost per school was $367. The difference in costs was because Rochester schools had one pickup location versus the nine pickup locations throughout Albany County. A hazardous waste recycler usually charges per pickup location. Also, Albany County disposed of mercury compounds, which resulted in an additional fee.

Even so, it's a real bargain if you compare the costs of keeping mercury-containing equipment as compared to the possibility of having to deal with a mercury spill clean up. A mercury spill cleanup can cost a school district thousands of dollars.

Our conclusion, from this pilot, is that it is far better for schools to be "pro-active," remove the mercury from their schools, and not have the headache of dealing with the cost, both monetary and in loss of school time, of cleaning up a mercury spill.

DEC staff can offer practical advice that you can follow when you decide to initiate a mercury collection from your school. For further information you can contact the Bureau of Waste Reduction & Recycling at (518) 402-8706.