Skip to Content

Mercury Fact Sheet

This fact sheet refers to elemental mercury.  Other forms of mercury such as organic mercury and inorganic mercury salts have unique hazards and require controls other than those detailed here.  If you are working with other forms of mercury, contact EHRS for assistance in conducting a thorough hazard assessment


Elemental Mercury, CAS # 7439-97-6, is a very dense liquid metal that is highly vaporizable at room temperature and will form vapor at temperatures as low as 10 oC.  It is also known as colloidal mercury, metallic mercury, and quicksilver.  Mercury is often found in thermometers, thermostat switches, and manometers.  It can be oxidized for use in various chemical reactions.  Spills of elemental mercury often disperse into very small particles that have the potential to vaporize faster than the ventilation system can dilute it.  Mercury vapor is colorless and odorless. The primary route of entry is inhalation but mercury can also be readily absorbed into the skin. Once inhaled or absorbed, the mercury may have toxic effects on the central nervous system.

Minimum Personal Protective Equipment

Protective clothing: Standard laboratory apparel including a fully-buttoned lab coat, long pants and closed-toe shoes must be worn.

Gloves: Mercury is absorbed through the skin. Wear 4 mil nitrile gloves which are sufficient to protect hands from incidental contact.  Contaminated glove must be removed and discarded properly.  Contact EHRS for assistance with appropriate glove selection if prolonged contact with elemental mercury is anticipated.

Eye and Face Protection: Safety glasses complying with ANSI Z87 standards or chemical splash goggles must be worn.

Special Work Practices

Mercury bubblers and other mercury-containing apparatus must be kept inside secondary containment to prevent the spread of mercury in the event of a spill.

Secondary Containment RequiredSeondary containment is required under this manometer

Never place mercury thermometers in an oven.  The temperature of the oven can exceed the upper measurement range of the thermometer, causing it to break and release mercury vapor.


Disposable labware that has come in contact with mercury must be collected in leak-proof disposable containers, labeled according to the EHRS hazardous waste guidelines and stored in secondary containment.

EHRS has a program that will exchange mercury thermometers with environmentally friendly ones by filling out a request form ( emailing Jim Crumley ( or by calling 215-746-5036.

Spill and Emergency Procedures

Mercury has a high propensity for dispersing on a surface so take great caution not to step in or spread the spill.  For small spills (the amount from a mercury thermometer) use a mercury clean up kit if one is available or contact EHRS for cleanup assistance.  There are mercury spill kits available for purchase through Ben Buys such as the Spilfyter Mercury Spill Kit from Fisher for $165.  For larger spills (such as the one shown below) evacuate the contaminated area and contact EHRS. 

large mercury spill

In the case of skin contact, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.  In the event of personal contamination remove and do not re-don any clothing that comes in contact with mercury.  Immediately contact EHRS for assistance.  Thoroughly rinse out eyes or mouth in the case of contact.  Contaminated personnel will be treated at Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Emergency Room on the ground floor of Silverstein Pavilion. 


For Immediate Medical Response: call 511 from any campus phone or call 215-573-3333 from the nearest phone. 

For Advice (9 am – 5 pm) or for Emergency Spills (after hours): call EHRS at 215-898-4453 (24 hours)