How A Mercury Spill Should Be Cleaned Up
Mercury is a heavy silvery-white metal that is liquid at room temperatures. It is commonly found in fever thermometers and other household, commercial and industrial items such as barometers, cooking thermometers, thermostats and fluorescent light bulbs. Despite its usefulness, it can be toxic to human beings if not correctly managed.
Spilled mercury forms tiny droplets on the surfaces. The mercury droplets invisibly vaporize in the air without emitting any smell. If this goes on for long, the mercury concentration in the air may rise, causing mercury poisoning. Inhaling mercury vapors can be dangerous, especially for young children and pregnant women. However, it is important to note that the amount of mercury in thermostats and fever thermometers may not cause serious health problems if cleaned up immediately.
What Not To Do After a Mercury Spill
If small mercury-containing items such as thermometers, thermostats or fluorescent tubes break, ensure you clean them immediately to prevent mercury from vaporizing in the air. However, you need to know the safety procedure when cleaning spilled mercury. Here are some of the things you should not do:
1. Never Use a Vacuum Cleaner or a Broom To Clean Up a Mercury Spill
Vacuuming mercury contaminates the vacuum cleaner and breaks the mercury into smaller droplets and disperses them in the area. Once mercury droplets spread, they vaporize fast and mixes in the air, increasing the risk of exposure.
2. Never Pour Mercury Down a Drain
Mercury can lodge in your drain system and vaporize into the room. Also, it can pollute wastewater treatment plants and septic tanks.
3. Never Use Household Cleaning Products To Clean Up the Spill
Home cleaning products contain chemicals such as chlorine and ammonia, which react explosively with mercury and emit toxic gases.
4. Never Use a Washing Machine to Wash Fabrics Contaminated With Mercury
Mercury can contaminate the washer and pollute the wastewater. It is advisable to seal and dispose of the contaminated clothing to reduce the risk of exposure.
5. Never Allow People Whose Clothes and Shoes Are Contaminated With Mercury to Walk Around Your Home
Contaminated footwear and clothes spread the mercury around your home, exposing you to the toxic effect of mercury contamination.
What If The Amount Spilled Is More Than What Is Contained In A Thermometer?
When the spilled amount is more, consider the following:
- Stay out of the room until you are ready to start cleaning. Cover the spill and the surrounding area with trash bags or plastic covers if you are not cleaning immediately. This will prevent the beads from spreading to the surroundings.
- Since mercury evaporates at room temperature, try to lower the temperature as much as you can.
- Close off all the vents that can allow mercury vapors to spread to other areas.
- Ventilate mercury to the outdoors by opening exterior windows. If need be, blow out the vapors by placing a fan next to the window. This way, you will prevent the outside breeze from blowing them back in.
Mercury Spill Cleanup Guidance
When mercury spills on a flat smooth surface, if it forms tiny balls that may spread, it is essential to inspect the entire room when cleaning carefully. So what is the safety procedure if mercury is spilled? Here is a step to step guide on how to clean up mercury spills.
1. Clear and Ventilate the Room Immediately
Evacuate all the people and pets from the room and ventilate it for at least 24 hours. Ensure the doors are closed to avoid spreading mercury to other areas of your home.
2. Put on a Pair of Rubber Gloves
Ensure you don’t touch mercury with bare hands.
3. Carefully Pick Any Broken Glass Objects or Sharp Equipment
Place the broken pieces in a paper towel and seal them in a zip lock bag.
4. Darken the Room, Then Light a Torch to Locate the Mercury
Mercury shines in the light, so it will be easy to find.
5. Cleanup the Hard Surface
Collect the large blobs with a piece of paper, put them in a wet paper towel and then seal them in a container. For the tiny beads, use a heavy-duty tape or eyedropper to collect.
6. Sprinkle Sulphur Powder
Sulphur neutralizes mercury. Ensure the sulphur you sprinkle is twice the amount, not mercury spilled. Neutralized mercury is easier to clean. Please do not leave the sulphur for more than 30 minutes as it may oxidize to sulphur dioxide.
7. Collect the Mercury-Sulfur Into a Plastic Bag
You may use a small brush with soft bristles to sweep it up.
Introduce Another Neutral Component to Absorb Residual Sulfur-Mercury
To eliminate the risk of mercury contamination, sprinkle ordinary baking flour or cornflour to neutralize its effects. Collect the residual by into a plastic bag for disposal.
- Discard the gloves, brush and the mercury-sulphur in the domestic waste trash bag
- If mercury spills on carpets, rugs, upholstery or clothing, remove the contaminated parts, seal them in a plastic bag and dispose of them.
- Dispose of the contaminated materials correctly
Mercury that cannot be stabilized by sulphur powder or is stored in a jar is a hazardous waste and can only be disposed of at a household chemical cleanout.
Mercury has a myriad of uses and benefits. However, if not handled properly, it can lead to health problems like coughing, breathlessness and kidney damage. Are you uncertain of what the safety procedure if mercury is spilled is? Or do you need professional help to clean up mercury spills?
Contact us today to talk to an expert or click here to buy a mercury spill kit.