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Mercury Manometer Replacement and Outreach Project for Plumbers

What is the problem with mercury manometers?

Due to health, environmental and liability issues, plumbers should seriously consider replacing mercury manometers with non-mercury alternatives. Mercury has been used in many products including batteries, fluorescent lights, switches and thermostats. Of specific concern are mercury-containing pressure reading gauges called manometers, used by plumbers and HVAC contractors to check the pressure in pipes and the presence of gas leaks in appliances. The manometers are easily broken, releasing mercury and mercury vapors. The mercury in a manometer is very toxic if released into the environment and can cause serious health problems for humans and wildlife.

What are the health effects of mercury exposure?

The amount of mercury in a commercially available plumber's manometer is just under two ounces, much smaller amounts of mercury can result in harmful air levels. Mercury spilled on fabric, carpet or porous surfaces is difficult to clean and remains a source of mercury vapors. Improper clean up of a mercury spill is potentially harmful and costly. For example, vacuuming a mercury spill will only make matters worse and releases vapors into the air. Exposure to mercury vapors affects the brain and can cause irritability, tremors, memory loss, hypertension, shortness of breath and chest pain. Mercury has also been associated with kidney and neurological disorders. Children and pregnant women are most at risk to mercury's toxic effects.

What are the effects of mercury on New York's environment?

There are currently 28 lakes and more than 265 miles of rivers in New York State that have fish consumption advisories because of mercury. Mercury in an aquatic ecosystem can be methylated by microorganisms to form methylmercury. Fish absorb methylmercury directly from the water and by eating smaller organisms that contain methylmercury. Greater amounts of methylmercury are found in older fish which tend to eat other fish and organisms. Methylmercury is found throughout the part of the fish that is eaten; therefore, cleaning and cooking methods which may reduce exposure to other contaminants are NOT effective for reducing exposure to mercury. New York State wildlife that primarily consume fish, such as loons and otters have also shown signs of mercury contamination.

How do I know if my manometer contains mercury?

A mercury manometer is a glass tube, usually U-shaped, with silver colored liquid that moves up and down in response to pressure changes in pipes used to determine the presence of gas leaks in appliances. The pressure is read from marks along the glass tube.

What are the alternatives to mercury manometers?

There are a variety of cost-effective, Alternatives to Mercury Pressure Testing Gauges available from companies. These low-pressure testing gauge alternatives are suitable for gas piping, drainage and vent systems.

What do I do with my used mercury manometers?

Be sure to handle mercury responsibly, with care to avoid exposure. It is unsafe and illegal for businesses to dispose of mercury manometers in the trash, outdoors or down the drain. The best management method is to have mercury handled by a commercial mercury recycler who can safely transport, store and manage mercury-containing products. Call a Regional DEC Office to obtain disposal or recycling information. You can also check with your local recycling coordinators. Some communities may accept manometers from plumbers for a small fee in their household hazardous waste programs.

What to Know More?

For further information concerning the mercury manometer plumbers outreach project, please contact the DEC's Pollution Prevention Unit at (518) 402-9469 or by fax at (518) 402-9168.


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