OSHA: Thermometer maker faces nearly $200k in fines for mercury exposure
A Long Island thermometer manufacturer faces almost $200,000 in penalties after federal workplace safety inspectors determined that the company failed to adequately protect workers who were exposed to toxic airborne mercury last year.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors proposed penalties totaling $195,988 be levied against Kessler Thermometer Corp. in connection with 21 violations, including failing to provide appropriate personal protective equipment and report a work-related hospitalization due to mercury poisoning.
A Kessler Thermometer spokesman declined to comment on the case. The company, which operates an 8,000-square-foot laboratory and manufacturing facility in West Babylon, can contest the violations, dated Feb. 27, or pay the prescribed penalties and document that the alleged deficiencies have been corrected.
The federal agency said the company allowed the airborne concentration of the toxic metal to exceed guidelines on Aug. 29, 2022, as workers filled thermometers, blew glass and distilled elemental mercury.
As many as 20 workers and three owners of the family-held company could have been exposed to airborne mercury, an OSHA spokesman said.
“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 Westbury-based OSHA area director Kevin Sullivan. “This company has been operating for about 20 years and knows the dangers their workers face.”
Kessler Thermometer makes and markets a variety of thermometers, including mercury, non-mercury and digital versions. The thermometers' uses include: cooking, maple syrup production, laying asphalt and weather and laboratory measurements.
In August, the company won a $250,000 thermometer contract from the federal Defense Logistics Agency.
Kessler Thermometer's website said the company is one of the last thermometer manufacturers in the United States.
High mercury exposure can cause "permanent nervous system and kidney damage," according to the OSHA website.
Other OSHA allegations included:
- An area where mercury is handled was designated as an eating area for employees. Inspectors found detectable levels of mercury in the eating area.
- Employees wore N-95 filtering facepieces — respirators not suitable to protect against mercury vapors — as they performed glass blowing, filling and calibration and were exposed to vapors of the toxic metal.
- Facilities for quickly drenching or flushing the eyes and body of workers exposed to corrosive materials were not provided in the work area.
The substance can be released when fluorescent bulbs are broken and the agency advises employers and workers to follow its guidelines to avoid inhalation or contact with skin. New York State has banned the sale of most mercury-containing products, including fever thermometers, since 2004.
Guidance for cleaning up common mercury spills:
Broken fluorescent lights: Clear the room of people and pets; shut off forced-air heating/cooling; air out the room for 5 to 10 minutes; use cardboard to pick up broken glass and powder; use sticky tape to get small fragments and powder; place materials outside in a sealable container; do not vacuum unless broken glass remains; air out the room for several more hours. For more information, see: https://www.epa.gov/mercury/cleaning-broken-cfl
Broken mercury thermometer: Clear the room of people and pets; put on rubber, nitril or latex gloves; place broken glass on a paper towel and put in a zip-lock bag; gather mercury beads using a squeegee or cardboard; use a flashlight to locate more beads; use an eyedropper to collect the mercury beads; squeeze onto a damp paper towel; place paper towel in a zip-lock bag; put shaving cream on a small paint brush and gently use it to pick up smaller beads (or else use duct tape to pick up glass fragments and mercury beads); label bags as required by your local health or fire department; ventilate the area for at least 24 hours and keep pets and children out. Do not vacuum, sweep with a broom, pour mercury down the drain, walk around with mercury-contaminated shoes. For more information see: https://www.epa.gov/mercury/what-do-if-mercury-thermometer-breaks
Source: Environmental Protection Agency