Mercury is a liquid metal with a high surface tension which makes it a tempting choice for use in submersible pump seals. Mercury is also a very toxic element that causes severe kidney and neurological health problems when consumed or inhaled by humans either directly or indirectly.
Over the past 20 years there has been a growing concern over the use of mercury in the products we tend to use each and every day. That list includes thermometers, thermostats, switches, relays and even dental products. Over the years, states have enacted legislation that have dramatically reduced the amount of mercury used within these products. In some cases the use of mercury has been banned all together.
One specific product that has come under scrutiny is the mercury seal used in Byron Jackson® deep well submersible motors as manufactured by Flowserve. Each of these motors contain between 8.25 to 17.25 lbs of mercury depending on the size of the motor.
The mercury from these seals can enter your water well or can be spilled on the ground when a seal fails or when maintenance is being performed on a well pump.
Doing a search on the internet provides numerous instances of mercury spills in and around municipal and industrial water supplies. These spills like the ones in Hawaii (see page 3), Idaho, Arizona and more recently at an industrial site in Illinois have caused states to ban the use of these mercury seals.
The cost of cleanup for these types of spills can become very costly. It could require notification to the EPA, sealing off the bottom of a well, excessive pumping, above ground cleanup, sampling and testing and worst case – abandoning a well all together.
The recent spill at an industrial site in Illinois required a subcontractor to come in, pump off the contaminated water to a holding tank, treat the water for contamination and then discharged it at the EPA allowable rate. In addition the well itself was no longer usable for their process and an alternate water supply was created. Total cost unknown, but presumed very expensive.
On Friday, August 19, 2011, the Governor of Illinois signed legislation that prohibits the sale and distribution of mercury “seals”. See Amended Senate Bill 1213, page 14, section 27, item 13 . The bill was passed unanimously by both the Senate and the House. This modification to the mercury bill takes affect on July 1, 2012.
Per discussions with Becky Jayne of the Illinois EPA, this law bans the sale of mercury seals used on submersible motors in water wells and includes those produced by Flowserve® for Byron Jackson® Type H motors.
Since mercury seals will no longer be available for sale in Illinois, owners of water systems will be required to use mechanical seals when installing new equipment or when replacing old mercury seals.
If you have questions or concerns on how this change in the law affects your water system, please give Municipal Well & Pump a call to discuss your unique situation.
Beads of Mercury on top case of pump resulting from a broken seal.
Another broken seal allowed mercury into oil can on a Byron Jackson motor.