EPA Issues Grant to Reduce Plumbers' Exposure to Mercury

New York's DEC and the EPA are working together to eliminate the use of mercury gauges by plumbers.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has received a $48,477 pollution prevention grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a program to promote the replacement of mercury-containing manometers - gauges used by plumbers to measure the pressure in natural gas lines - with gauges that do not contain the toxic chemical. DEC will match EPA's grant with its own funds, for a total program cost of $96,954.

Mercury gauges have been the traditional choice of many plumbers, but are very easily broken. If the gauges are not used or handled correctly, the mercury may be released into the environment and evaporate into the air.

When it does, it forms a vapor that is readily inhaled. Mercury poisoning can cause brain and nerve damage, memory loss, hypertension, tremors and irritability. Pregnant women are particularly at risk near a mercury release because inhaled mercury may be transferred to the fetus.

The safer mercury-free gauges available today offer the same precision as traditional gauges, without the risks mercury gauges may pose to plumbers and their clients.

With EPA funding, DEC will conduct an extensive outreach project to plumbers state-wide to reduce the use of mercury manometers and ensure they are disposed of properly. DEC will provide educational outreach to plumbers about the potential hazards of mercury; work with gas utility companies to develop take-back programs for mercury manometers and with local governments to collect them on hazardous waste collection days; and identify municipalities in New York State that require plumbers to use mercury gauges and draft model municipal code language that they can use to bring about the replacement of mercury gauges.

edited by Sandy Smith

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