Keep Calm and Go Hg Free by Greg Kwolek, Senior Research Safety Specialist

Elemental mercury (Hg), a liquid metal at room temperature with a silvery appearance, is a neurotoxic chemical that     bio-accumulates in the environment. Mercury sometimes seems to have a singular fate in the laboratory, however, and that is to be inadvertently released, especially from a broken thermometer. These releases are difficult, time consuming, and expensive to clean-up. In an effort to reduce the number of mercury-containing devices at Columbia and prevent  future inadvertent releases of mercury in the laboratory, EH&S has engaged the research community in a free mercury  thermometer exchange program over the past 10+ years.

  Throughout the life of the program, EH&S has offered National Institute of Standards (NIST) traceable, 12” partial    immersion organic liquid-in-glass thermometers with a range of -20°C to +110°C  and a ±1°C accuracy, in exchange for an intact mercury thermometer. EH&S also recognizes that some laboratory applications require the measurement of      temperatures outside of that range, and now offers non-mercury alternatives with a maximum temperature range of +260°C, including jointed models, to promote the exchange of additional thermometers.

Throughout fall, 2014, EH&S personnel have been visiting laboratories on the Morningside and Medical Center                 campuses and have exchanged over 50 thermometers for non-mercury containing alternatives, many of which were              exchanged as a result of the new offerings with extended temperature ranges. EH&S would like to extend a thank you to the research community for being partners in reducing the amount of mercury on campus and protecting our environment.

  keep calmIf you would like to exchange a mercury thermometer for a non-mercury alternative please contact your Research Safety Specialist at or by calling (212) 854-8749 (Morningside) or (212) 305-6780 (Medical Center). Still not sure? If EH&S does not currently stock a thermometer suitable for exchange, just let us know and we will investigate non-mercury alternatives on a case-by-case basis.  Mercury-free devices are available

through University-preferred laboratory supply vendors, as well - purchasing-guide.


Have You Labeled It? by Augustine Ogbonnaya, Research Safety Specialist

Laboratory operations often require transfer of hazardous materials from the manufacturer’s original container into another container for easier handling and use, such as a beaker, flask, or squeeze bottle. The transfer, however, doesn’t end with that of the material. In most cases, information from the original container must also be transferred to the new, or secondary container, by applying a label.

The original container label is likely to contain a great deal of information which would be impractical to duplicate and transfer to the secondary container. To simplify the required labeling process for secondary containers, only the name of the hazardous material and a description of the hazards - which can be displayed using pictograms or text - need to be applied to the secondary container.  This helps to ensure that everyone in the laboratory, not only the person who made the transfer, knows which hazardous material is in the secondary container and understands what the hazards are. Unlabeled containers can contribute to a serious incident in the laboratory or result in non-compliance during a regulatory inspection.

To make labeling your containers quick and easy, EH&S has developed label templates that can be printed through ChemWatch, the University’s online source for chemical safety information. For more information, and to start printing your own labels today, please visit the EH&S website at

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