Why is mercury dangerous?

Mercury is a metal. But not ordinary, very volatile. This means that at room temperature, mercury that is outside the container (the same thermometer) begins to evaporate quickly. Vapors enter the air, and from there into the lungs. Accumulating in the body, mercury compounds cause poisoning.

The danger to health is so great that back in 2013 WHO recommended abandon thermometers and other medical devices based on mercury.

Poisoning may not appear immediately. It takes several days or even months for the body to accumulate a toxic dose. The most common symptoms – weakness, general malaise, loss of appetite, metallic taste in the mouth, trembling in the fingers, headaches and sore throats, increased salivation, nausea, vomiting. As you can see, they can easily be attributed to stress, fatigue, or poisoning of another etiology.

But if mercury continues to accumulate, more serious problems appear: the nervous, digestive, immune systems suffer, the functioning of the lungs, liver, kidneys and other internal organs is disrupted. Sometimes things end in death.

Important! If the thermometer breaks in the presence of a small child or animal, there is a risk that they could swallow the shiny mercury ball. Most often this safely: mercury is not absorbed from a healthy digestive tract in amounts that could cause poisoning, and is excreted along with feces. But it is still worth consulting with a pediatrician or veterinarian and observing the condition of the child or pet.

What to do immediately after the thermometer crashed

First deed remove children and animals from the room and close the door so that mercury vapor does not go into neighboring rooms.

To prevent anyone from transferring drops of mercury on shoes, lay a rag soaked in a solution of potassium permanganate (1 g of potassium permanganate per 8 liters of water) or soap and soda before entering solution (30 g of soda, 40 g of grated soap, 1 liter of water).

If balls of a hazardous substance come into contact with a heated floor, turn it off immediately. The higher the temperature, the faster the mercury evaporates.

And open the window to cool the room. But in no case do not allow a draft, due to which mercury can scatter throughout the room. For the same reason, do not turn on the fan or air conditioner until the end of the cleaning.

Take care of yourself. Put on shoe covers or plastic bags on your feet, and rubber gloves on your hands. The airways also need protection. For example, a disposable mask with gauze embedded inside, moistened with a solution of potassium permanganate.

That’s it, you are ready for demercurization (this is the name of the process of cleaning the room from mercury).

What not to do when collecting mercury

Before you start cleaning, be sure to read the important rules:

  1. Do not sweep mercury with a broom or brush. Rigid rods will only grind the drops into fine dust and scatter them throughout the room.
  2. Do not vacuum up mercury. Warm air causes the substance to evaporate even more intensely. In addition, the particles will remain on the engine parts and will spread throughout the apartment during the next cleaning.
  3. Do not throw away the thermometer and collected mercury balls in the garbage chute. This will pollute the air throughout the house.
  4. Do not flush mercury down the toilet, or wash rags and other household items in the sink. Otherwise, the metal will settle in the sewer pipes, and it will be very difficult to remove it from there.

How to collect mercury if the thermometer is broken

This can be tricky: mercury droplets are very mobile and easily get stuck behind skirting boards, floor crevices, carpet pile, and furniture upholstery. Ministry of Emergency Situations recommends act as follows.

1. Remove the broken thermometer from the floor

You will need a glass jar with a lid or any other sealed container. A volume of 0.5–1 l is enough. Pour water or a solution of potassium permanganate into a jar and carefully place the fragments of the thermometer collected from the floor there.

2. Look for items that may have been exposed to mercury

If there are any, collect them in a closed plastic bag. Later, when you are done with cleaning the room, contaminated clothes or toys will have to be dispose of along with mercury and fragments of a thermometer. You can’t rely on washing – small metal particles will settle in the washing machine, and this is fraught with contamination of other things.

Taking it to dry cleaning or just throwing it away is also a bad option. Dry cleaning sometimes fails, and someone can pick up and use a discarded item, which is unsafe.

3. Collect large balls of mercury

Move from the corners of the room to the center. With thick paper, cotton wool soaked in a solution of potassium permanganate, or with a brush, push the drops onto a sheet of A4 paper. Then brush the balls into the jar, where the fragments of the thermometer lie.

You can also use ordinary tape: stick a small piece on the floor where there is mercury, and tear it off along with the balls. Then send the tape with mercury to the jar.

4. Be sure to look for and remove small drops of mercury

They are more dangerous than large ones: their total surface is large, and therefore evaporation is more active.

To collect all the mercury without residue and get to the smallest drops in the cracks of the floor, under the baseboard and in the pile of the carpet, use a syringe, a medical pear with a thin tip or a paint brush.

What to do if the thermometer crashed: collect balls of mercury
Video: Ministry of Emergency Situations of Belarus / YouTube

Attention! If there are a lot of small balls and the process of their search is delayed, every 15 minutes do break and go out into the fresh air for a few minutes.

Close the jar with the collected mercury tightly with a lid and put it in a cool place, preferably on the balcony. Fold the brush, paper, syringe and other improvised materials into a tight plastic bag. Tie it up and place it next to the jar.

How to treat a room

After you have collected mercury, you need to additionally handle room. First, wash the floor with bleach.

In a plastic (not metal, this is important!) Bucket, prepare a solution of chlorine bleach: 1 liter of the product in 8 liters of water. Then, using a sponge, brush or floor cloth, thoroughly rinse the floor and other contaminated surfaces. Pay special attention to cracks and crevices. Leave the solution on surfaces for 15 minutes, then rinse with clean water.

Finally, treat the floor and surfaces again with a solution of potassium permanganate (1 g per 8 liters of water). As a result of this procedure, uncollected liquid mercury oxidized and ceases to emit toxic fumes into the air.

If neither bleach nor potassium permanganate was found at home, it is permissible to use hot soap and soda solution: 30 g of soda, 40 g of grated soap per 1 liter of water.

Sponge, brush or rag, which washed the floor, put in a bag, tie it up and place it next to the jar of mercury.

After that, ventilate the room for 2-3 hours. If small drops of mercury remain unnoticed by you on the floor, they will safely evaporate and disappear out the open window. Then vacuum the room, immediately put the bag from the vacuum cleaner into a bag with dirty things.

What to do after this

When you’re done take care About Me:

  • Rinse with a solution of potassium permanganate, and then with a soap and soda solution, gloves and shoes.
  • Rinse your mouth with a slightly pink solution of potassium permanganate.
  • Brush your teeth thoroughly.
  • Take two or three activated charcoal tablets.

The collected substance and contaminated tools and things packed in plastic bags should be sent to a facility that can recycle mercury. The nearest sanitary and epidemiological station will tell you its address – just call and ask for help with disposal. The SES phone number can be found on the Internet.

In the next few weeks, try to regularly wash the floor with a chlorine solution (follow the instructions on the product packaging), ventilate the room more often and more intensively, drink more fluids – compounds that form in the body when inhaling mercury vapor are excreted through the kidneys.

What to do if you are not sure that you have collected all the mercury

The answer is optimistic: worry less. If we are talking about a broken thermometer, then there is not much mercury in it – only about 1-2 g. According to research Ecospace, if at the same time you remove the visible balls, the concentration of toxic vapors will not exceed the maximum permissible values ​​u200bu200band will not cause harm to health. And in a few weeks of intensive ventilation, it will completely drop to zero.

If you are still worried, call 112 at the Ministry of Emergency Situations and report that your thermometer has broken. They will write down your address, tell you what to do, or come to your house to completely clean the room. It’s free.

True, there is a nuance. Often, employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations are loaded with other things and cannot always promptly help with a broken thermometer. In this case, you can call a paid demercurization service in your city.

This article was first published in February 2017. In March 2020, we updated the text.