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Multi-purpose Flooring Materials May Produce Mercury Vapor

Exposure to mercury and mercury vapor can cause respiratory illnesses, organ damage, neurological impairment and other ailments.

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) has received multiple reports from various school districts revealing elevated mercury content in certain types of multipurpose flooring. While the existence of this type of flooring has been known for many years, a recent push is being made to evaluate and assess the level of risk these floors pose to occupants. As such, the NYSED has requested that all schools perform an inventory of rubber-like polyurethane floors that exist in their buildings, specifically if they were installed between the 1960s and the 1990s*.

Investigations by the NYS Department of Health (DOH) have generally found mercury vapor levels in spaces with undisturbed polyurethane flooring in good condition are low, and fall below recommended levels used for health assessments. However, the phenyl mercuric acetate (PMA) catalyst, which exists within these rubber-like polyurethane floors, can break down and release odorless, colorless mercury vapor at room temperature. Districts should be aware that exposure to the mercury vapor may worsen if the floors are damaged or deteriorated, or are located in areas with elevated temperatures or poor ventilation. Mercury and mercury vapor can cause respiratory illnesses, organ damage, neurological impairment and other ailments. Children are among those most at risk as their brains and bodies are still developing.

It is expected that the NYSED will soon raise this request to a requirement for not only an inventory, but also testing of suspected flooring. LaBella routinely checks for suspected mercury-containing materials during our standard hazardous/regulated building materials inspections. LaBella also has the experience and expertise to test for mercury content and, if necessary, design an abatement plan to mitigate the issue.

Our team of environmental experts can help districts get ahead of this anticipated regulation. To alleviate any concerns regarding the health and safety of students and staff, it is important that districts address this potential issue promptly. For more information on how LaBella can help, contact our Regulated Building Materials Program Manager, Jarrod Miner. Jarrod is available by email, jminer@labellapc.com or by phone, 585-295-6241.

*NYSED letter from Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to Superintendents and Leaders of Public, Nonpublic and Charter Schools, dated June 11, 2019