three droplets of mercury against a green background

OSHA Cites Thermometer Manufacturer for Overexposure to Elemental Mercury

The company now faces citations for 21 violations and proposed penalties of $195,988.

Federal OSHA inspectors cited a Long Island thermometer manufacturer for overexposing their employees to elemental mercury (Hg) at its West Babylon, New York facility. OSHA determined Kessler Thermometer Corp. overexposed employees to airborne elemental mercury in August 2022 while they worked to distill and purify elemental mercury, fill thermometers, blow glass and during calibration and engraving of thermometers and hydrometers.

Mercury is a silvery, heavy, odorless liquid. Mercury is found in some thermometers, manometers, barometers, gauges, valves, switches, batteries and high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps. It is also used in amalgams for dentistry, preservatives, heat transfer technology, pigments, catalysts and lubricating oils. Exposure can occur during the mining, production and transportation of mercury as well as the mining and refining of gold and silver ores.

Mercury can affect workers who breathe it in and if it passes through your skin. When skin contact also occurs, workers may be overexposed, even though air levels are less than the OSHA exposure standard. Mercury can irritate the skin and eyes. Exposure to high levels of mercury vapor can irritate the lungs, causing cough, chest pain and shortness of breath. Mercury may also cause a skin allergy. If an allergy develops, very low future exposure can cause itching and a skin rash. Repeated exposure can accumulate causing mercury poisoning. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include tremors, trouble remembering and concentrating, gum problems and changes in mood. Repeated exposure may cause clouding of the eyes. Very high mercury exposure can result in permanent nervous system and kidney damage.

OSHA inspectors found the company allegedly willfully exposed and severely sickened workers by allowing the airborne concentration of the toxic metal to exceed the OSHA maximum Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 0.1 mg/m3 as an eight-hour Time-Weighted Average (TWA) based on Biological Exposure Indices (BEIs) established by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). Wipe samples were not collected to evaluate the surface contamination level in each of the work areas.

Biological monitoring provides an important means to assess exposure and health risk to workers. It entails the measurement of a chemical determinant in the biological media of those exposed and is an indicator of the uptake of a substance. BEIs are guidance values for evaluating biological monitoring results. BEIs generally represent the levels of determinants that are most likely to be observed in specimens collected from healthy workers who have been exposed to chemicals to the same extent as workers with inhalation exposure. Biological monitoring can assist occupational health professionals (occupational and industrial hygienists, occupational physicians and nurses, etc.) to determine absorption via the skin or gastrointestinal system or inhalation; assess body burden; reconstruct past exposure; detect nonoccupational exposures among workers; test the efficacy of personal protective equipment and engineering controls; and monitor work practices. Biological monitoring helps serve as a complement to exposure risk assessment by air sampling and medical surveillance.

For those workers with frequent or potentially high exposure (half the Threshold Limit Value or greater, or significant skin contact), BEIs are recommended before beginning work and at regular times. After that, exposed workers should receive a medical exam of the nervous system (including a handwriting test to detect early hand tremors). Urine mercury level should be less than 0.02 mg/liter along with normal limits for kidney function tests. OSHA cited the company for 18 serious, one willful and two other-than-serious violations. Kessler Thermometer Corp. now faces $195,988 in proposed penalties.

“Kessler Thermometer Corp. knowingly endangered the lives and health of their employees by ignoring basic safeguards to control hazardous mercury in the workplace and failed to acknowledge its employees were being sickened by mercury exposure,” said OSHA Area Director Kevin Sullivan in Westbury, New York, in a news release. “This company has been operating for about 20 years and knows the dangers their workers face.”

According to the news release, “Specifically, the company failed to provide:

  • Engineering controls to reduce mercury exposure.
  • Complete and effective respiratory protection
  • Provide chemical hazard communication programs
  • Appropriate personal protective equipment and clothing.
  • Emergency response plan to handle cleanup of spilled mercury.
  • Eating and food storage areas free of mercury exposure.
  • An emergency shower and appropriate first aid.
  • Proper labeling for all hazardous chemical containers.
  • Recording of all recordable work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Report a work-related incident from in-patient hospitalization due to mercury poisoning.”

The laboratory and manufacturing facility, operated by the same company since 2002 in West Babylon is 8,000-square-foot, per OSHA.

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