Mercury-containing devices can be found in almost every setting imaginable: factories, hospitals, office buildings even homes. Staff and contractors who come onto your property or facility to perform services, are at risk 24 hours a days a week. Cleaning companies that offer their services on a contract basis are prime examples of a potentially at-risk group. Cleaning services often customize their schedule and work tasks to meet their clients’ needs. Services can include vacuuming, mopping, dusting and cleaning windows. Most cleaning is done after business hours or a specified shift.
Contract cleaning companies can provide their own cleaning equipment, which may be dedicated to a client’s site or the cleaning company may use their equipment on multiple sites. Some companies mandate the cleaning company use in-house owned equipment only. Equipment use may also be a combination of the above.
Rader Environmental recently responded to a mercury spill at a pediatric care center. The spill was caused by a leaking mercury-containing sphygmomanometer (blood pressure cuff). In fact, it was somewhat of a fluke that the spill was ever realized by the pediatric care center.
Two contract cleaning personnel that had cleaned the pediatric care center after business hours just happened to be talking the next morning about a blood pressure cuff that was mounted on wheels leaked some “silver stuff” on the floor while they where moving it to vacuum. Their manager happened to overhear the conversation and realized that they were more than likely talking about mercury.
The manager of the cleaning company immediately contacted the pediatric care center and told them what may have happened the night before during their routine nightly cleaning. The pediatric care center contacted the local health department, which arranged for the air inside of the facility to be tested for mercury vapor.
Mercury vapor was found to be at levels unsafe for occupancy. The pediatric care center was forced to close for business until mercury was abated to safe levels for re-occupancy. Pregnant women and toddlers – the main clientele at this facility – are the most sensitive population to mercury vapor exposure.
Further assessment of the facility indicated that mercury had been spread throughout the facility by the vacuum cleaner.
The Double Whammy
The same vacuum cleaner that was used at the pediatric care center was then taken to another local business and used to vacuum carpet. Mercury vapor readings indicated mercury levels too high for occupancy at this business, forcing the business to close its doors until mercury cleanup was completed.
Fortunately, these were the only two offices that were cleaned by the contaminated vacuum. By chance, the cleaning company’s manager happened to overhear the two employees talk about the silver substance they saw while vacuuming.
Both offices were abated and re-opened for business.
Food for Thought
- There is always a potential for a mercury spill if a mercury-containing device is on your site.
- Dedicated cleaning equipment can eliminate the risk of contaminated equipment entering or leaving your business.
- Train all personnel (your employees and contract personnel) to recognize mercury and what to do in case of a mercury spill.
- Replace mercury-containing devices with non-mercury containing devices whenever possible.
- If you must utilize mercury-containing devices, train all personnel what to do in case of a mercury spill and the hazards of mercury.
The mercury spill in the pediatrics care center could have easily been overlooked exposing staff and patients to mercury levels that are hazardous to one’s health for an unknown amount of time.