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Checking for Mercury in Running Tracks

Many tracks contain mercury(II) catalysts, e.g. phenylmercuric acetate. Mercury compounds are coming under increased scrutiny by environmental authorities (www.epa.gov/mercury). Universities with running tracks may be interested in checking their mercury content.

1. Checking the Track Yourself

A very simple and inexpensive way to check for mercury in your track is by use of the Mercury CheckTM Swabs. This Mercury Test Kit, manufactured by HybriVet Systems, Inc. (www.leadcheck.com) is offered for sale by Lab Safety Systems (www.labsafety.com), Gardco (www.gardco.com), and BGI Inc (www.bgiusa.com), among others.

Simply crush the glass ampoule and rub the swab on your track. A purple color indicates a positive test for mercury > 1.5 ug. If the track is red, a red color on the test is merely the track pigment and does NOT indicate mercury. Be sure to cut into the track and test each layer separately, as some layers may contain mercury while others do not.

2. Checking Track for Landfill Disposal

If your track tested positive for mercury, the next thing you will want to know is whether or not it can be disposed of in an unregulated (not hazardous waste) landfill. The test you will want to perform for this is EPA Test Method 1311 — Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure. Also known as TCLP (pronounced "T-Clip") this test is performed under the Federal RCRA law (40 CFR 261) which determines what waste is considered hazardous waste. You will want to contact your local landfill as they will typically only accept results from the lab they certify. They will also be able to tell you what results are acceptable as "non-hazardous" in your area. H.M. Pitt Labs in National City, CA (619-474-8548) can also perform the test.

3. Check Track for Actual Mercury Content

If the issue is the amount of mercury actually present in the track, the university may want to perform a Total Mercury test. Wyoming Analytical Laboratories in Golden, Colorado (303-278-2446) perform such tests. Other vendors may lose mercury as Hg(0) which is volatile during the test, leading to misleadingly low results.