Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Los Alamos flips the mercury ’off’ switch


Mercury, that silvery liquid metal ubiquitous in switches, pressure gauges and thermometers, is an environmental bad-boy and toxic to humans through inhalation, skin contact and ingestion. It is easily spilled and can go unnoticed in aging lab equipment.

However, with new technology, mercury can be practically erased from the typical laboratory setting, reducing and even eliminating the environmental and health hazards, according to researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory who present their findings Monday at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.

"We make the case," said Michael Cournoyer of the Laboratory’s Nuclear Materials Technology Division, "that aside from certain high-accuracy pressure-testing and calibration devices, there is no reason to buy new lab equipment that contains mercury."

Cournoyer’s talk will take place at 2 p.m. in room 222 of the Morial Convention Center, 900 Convention Center Boulevard, New Orleans, La.

This is a lesson learned, according to Cournoyer, from a clean up of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility at Los Alamos. During a 2000 waste disposal program, two separate small mercury spills took place at CMR as a result of removing old electrical equipment. Although no direct evidence was uncovered, it was assumed that the mercury came from broken switches or other electrical devices. The spills were fully cleaned, but the events showed that more needed to be done to avoid or prevent mercury contamination.

"The Laboratory needed to better characterize old equipment before its removal, to make sure what possible hazards were present, mercury-specific spill kits needed to be on hand for 100 milliliter or smaller spills, and a waste avoidance program needed to be implemented to reduce or eliminate mercury-laden mixed wastes," said Cournoyer.

After the experiences of 2000, the Laboratory began an aggressive mercury waste avoidance program, according to Cournoyer. Mercury-free alternatives for pressure gauges, electronic relays, switches and thermometers were identified and used to replace mercury-containing devices with an eye toward environmentally preferable products.

"There are several mercury-free barometers and vacuum gauges, liquid-filled bourdon gauges and electronic thermometers and pressure gauges available," said Cournoyer. "The overall reduction in mercury-dependent instruments is significant, there are fewer risks of spills and compared to the costs associated with mercury disposal and clean-up the use of alternatives is also less expensive."

In addition to alternative instruments, the Laboratory’s mercury waste avoidance program considers disposal options such as manufacturer take-back and recycling policies, the use of specialized mercury vacuums and amalgamating kits to quickly, safely and cost-effectively respond to mercury spills, and clearly defined disposal pathways that could include a system of mercury distillation to remove the metal from certain mixed wastes.

Pollution prevention issues continue to be at the forefront of planning and design as the Laboratory seeks to build new or replacement nuclear facilities, with a focus on worker safety, use of environmentally friendly materials and future clean-up requirements, according to Cournoyer. "Pollution prevention and waste minimization initiatives are a major part of our risk management strategy with the goal of contributing to the scientific and operational excellence of the Laboratory by decreasing the hazards, risks and waste volume across the board, not just for mercury."

Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by the University of California for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy and works in partnership with NNSA’s Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories to support NNSA in its mission.

Los Alamos enhances global security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health and national security concerns.

Kevin Roark | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>