Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
EBMUD Helps Schools Reduce Health
Risks from Mercury Exposure
East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) was recognized by EPA for its innovative pilot program to help local schools and colleges remove dangerous mercury thermometers and similar devices from school buildings. The program is a unique partnership among EPA, EBMUD and Bay Area Schools to prevent exposure to mercury and avoid costly clean-ups of mercury spills.
EBMUD joined EPA’s National Partnership for Environmental Priorities (NPEP) in 2005 with a goal of collecting 25 pounds of mercury per year from educational institutions in its service area. Over the last five years EBMUD collected a total of 497 pounds of mercury, greatly exceeding its program goals and significantly reducing public and environmental health risks from mercury in the process.
Mercury is a highly toxic metal which effects the brain development of children and is often found in school science labs in older thermometers, barometers, switches, thermostats and other devices. Just a few drops of mercury can contaminate thousands of gallons of water, cause serious environmental damage and persist in the environment for many years. EBMUD has put in place several programs to prevent mercury pollution from getting into water treatment plants or into San Francisco Bay.
Mercury presents special dangers in schools because children are often attracted to the silvery liquid and are unaware of the serious and even fatal health effects that can result from handling it. Schools often find it difficult to eliminate mercury because of safe handling concerns as well as the high cost involved in safe disposal.
On June 22, 2010, EPA Waste Division Director Jeff Scott presented EBMUD with a plaque recognizing its achievements as an NPEP partner and for the public health benefits that resulted. The program developed by EBMUD can be used as a model for other wastewater/utility districts around the country to help educational institutions reduce mercury and protect students and teachers as well as the environment.