Looking for the Next Mercury
Maintenance and engineering managers are fielding a growing chorus of questions about hazardous materials in facilities, and many of them have to do with whether certain products, equipment and supplies contain mercury. These inquiries spawn a host of related questions, not the least of which is whether any other — okay, how many other — hazardous materials are lurking in facilities.
The health hazards of mercury and the presence of mercury-containing products are not new issues, obviously. What does seems new is the attention that local, state and federal agencies have been paying to hazardous materials in institutional and commercial facilities.
In late October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) levied a fine of $279,900 against Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, N.Y., for violating requirements of federal and state hazardous waste laws. The fine is just the latest volley in EPA’s campaign to enforce such laws in institutional facilities. Last year, the agency’s Region 2 office sent letters to 480 health care facilities announcing its enforcement intent. Several EPA regional offices also have launched similar initiatives within the nation’s higher education community.
In response to these pressures — as well as questions from building occupants — facility executives and other interested parties are asking tougher questions about the way their organizations handle hazardous materials. But whether maintenance and engineering managers get a call from a facility executive or a law-enforcement agency, they inevitably will be asked hard questions about hazardous material management.
One response might to be to field such questions as they arise, provide the requested information and then get back to other, seemingly more pressing issues.
But a second, more proactive approach — one that might help an organization avoid bigger problems later — would be to look more closely at all areas of facility operations and try to determine where the next mercury might be lurking.