Project Info

Mercury Contamination from Experimental Laboratory

Complains were received by Rutgers professors researching the work performed by Thomas A. Edison at the laboratory in East Orange, NJ. Elemental mercury was dripping from the upstairs ceiling/floor cavity on to the floor and building surfaces below. A Jerome mercury vapor analyzer was used to evaluate residual surface contamination after the initial cleanup and determine the source of the exposure. Measurements indicated that mercury was below the upstairs flooring and records indicate that mercury was used in experiments to make batteries. Surfaces on some artifacts were contaminated after being transferred from the upstairs rooms to other parts of the lab. A historical renovation contractor was hired to remove the wood flooring based on past performance, however, the crew sent to the job was inexperienced in the hazards of elemental mercury. A site health and safety plan was created to include exposure monitoring, personal protective clothing and respirators, specialized decontamination procedures, review of the plan to renovate the space, design and installation of a ventilation system which included impregnated carbon filters, and a weekly medical surveillance program to evaluate body dose to mercury. The initial work plan used circular saws to remove the flooring. This created very high vapor levels in air. Work practices and procedures were modified to help reduce the amount of frictional heat by using reciprocating saw. Although the work was slower, the exposure was within acceptable risk. Workers failed to decontaminate properly using the soap provided and procedure to turn the contaminated clothing inside out. Mercury vapor was detected on their skin after decontaminating themselves. Puddles of mercury were found underneath the original flooring and above the tongue and grove wood ceiling below. Mercury vacuums were used to remove the bulk of the mercury and contaminated materials were removed and wrapped in plastic sheeting for disposal. Project oversight went well and the medical surveillance results remained within acceptable levels. Air monitoring exposures were kept in check with the ventilation system so nearby interior spaces were not affected. The project took two months to complete and after third party verification, the renovation process began to replace the wood timbers removed from the upstairs laboratory.
East Orange
New Jersey
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