Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Where Does Mercury Vapor Find Us?

Today, mercury continues to be used in many products, primarily in fluorescent lamps and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in offices, stores and homes. Because of its high density, it is also used in barometers and manometers. Due to its high rate of thermal expansion—which remains fairly constant over a wide temperature range—mercury is also used extensively in thermometers and thermostats. Mercury-vapor lamps, which emit light rich in ultraviolet radiation, are used for street lighting, in water treatment plants as a disinfectant, and in tanning beds. Mercury is used as an electrode in the production of chlorine and sodium hydroxide and in certain electric batteries. Mercury is important as an electrical contact for switches, and mercury conducts the charge in fluorescent lamps.

Exposure typically comes from inhaling mercury vapors. For most of us, fluorescent lamps present the single greatest risk of mercury exposure in the work place. A recent study of exposure to broken "low mercury" lamps by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection entitled "Release of Mercury from Broken Fluorescent Bulbs" demonstrated that "elevated airborne levels of mercury could exist in the vicinity of recently broken lamps, and "could exceed occupational exposure limits."

There is currently significant risk in transporting fluorescent lamps and CFLs, as there are no packaging standards and few regulations in place requiring proper packaging for storage and transportation. To protect against mercury vapor exposure from used fluorescent lamps and other mercury-containing devices, these products should be stored and transported in a packaging configuration proven to contain mercury vapor. One current design includes a vapor resistant and zip seal bag and is the only design that has proven effective in containing mercury vapor.

Brad Buscher
Chairman and CEO
VaporLok Products LLC

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