BY MAIRE O’NEILL
A January 29 mercury spill at Los Alamos National Laboratory did not present a hazard to human health or the environment, according to report sent February 12 to New Mexico Environment Department’s Hazardous Waste Bureau by Triad National Security, LLC and the National Nuclear Security Administration Los Alamos Field Office.
The spill occurred at Technical Area 03, SM 40, in Room N149 at around 5:55 p.m. where an employee was using a mercury porosimeter within a laboratory and accidently spilled approximately 50 grams of elementary mercury, the report states. A porosimeter was being used to evaluate the porosity of samples by introducing pressurized mercury.
The mercury, which spilled onto the instrument, the wall next to the instrument and the floor, was cleaned up over the next two hours, according to the report. On Sunday, January 31, the employee did not feel well and called the New Mexico Poison Hotline and was directed to go to an emergency room. The employee apparently stayed overnight at the hospital and was released back to work the following Thursday. Hospital laboratory analysis results showed the employee had no detection of mercury in his system, according to the report.
Hazardous waste generated from clean-up consisted of liquid mercury and mercury contaminated wipes and gloves. The wipes and gloves were placed into a labeled one-gallon waste container within a Satellite Accumulation Area by the employee on the day of the incident. The liquid mercury was contained inside a mercury vacuum, provided by the porosimeter manufacturer for mercury clean up, until February 2 when it was weighed and moved to a waste container in the same SAA as the other waste. The measured weight of the elemental mercury waste was approximately 50 grams and all waste generated from the spill was placed in two poly 14-gallon drums, the report states and on Jan. 31, Triad cordoned off the impacted laboratory and “made the proper notifications”.
“In addition, Triad conducted a thorough and complete investigation of the laboratory and room where the incident occurred, and concluded that the incident did not present a hazard to human health or the environment. Based on the rigorous investigation, it was determined that no mercury was released into the environment and analysis confirmed that no traces of mercury were found outside of the laboratory where the mercury porosimeter is located,” the report stated.
A Laboratory spokesman told the Los Alamos Reporter Monday morning that due to the hazardous nature of its work, the Laboratory takes chemical safety seriously.
“A recent spill of a small amount of mercury led to a thorough review of chemical handling procedures, and a subsequent fact finding determined that there was no exposure to Laboratory staff. Out of an abundance of caution, one individual who was involved with the cleanup was tested for a possible uptake and found to be free of contamination. We have taken steps to ensure that safety remains the top priority in dealing with hazardous substances at LANL,” the spokesperson said.