Why is mercury a hazard?
Mercury is the only liquid metal. It is used in many household devices, including fever thermometers, thermostats, switches, and some paints. Mercury and all of its compounds are very toxic. Mercury contaminated fish have caused serious illness in many people, and children are especially sensitive to mercury poisoning. However the primary risk from mercury is breathing mercury vapor. Like any liquid, mercury evaporates, and prolonged exposure to mercury vapor can cause permanent, irreversible neurological damage.
Because of the danger of mercury, the State of Ohio has banned the sale of mercury-containing products for homes and schools. Read the Ohio Revised Code for details. There are safer substitutes for mercury- containing products on the market, and you should properly dispose of any thermometer, thermostat, or mercury containing device in your home or school. If you want to properly dispose of a mercury-containing item, visit the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio's website for a list of household hazardous waste disposal sites.
Liquid mercury vaporizes easily at room temperature. Mercury vapor is far more of a health hazard than liquid mercury, because the vapors are quickly absorbed by the lungs. As much as 80 percent of the inhaled mercury vapor will be absorbed into the lungs. In addition, the mercury migrates to the brain and central nervous system and kidneys where it can cause permanent, often irreversible damage. (ATSDR.)
Pregnant and nursing women, children and people with chronic health problems are more vulnerable to mercury poisoning.Mercury compounds are also very toxic, and they are easily absorbed by the lungs, the skin and the intestines. They cause brain damage, kidney damage and death just like metallic mercury.
YES! Thermometers, thermostats, barometers and other devices that don’t contain mercury are available to replace mercury-containing tools and they are comparable in price and in quality. Most mercury-containing paints, fungicides and medications have been banned in the USA and safer substitutes are on the market.
Spilled elemental mercury is difficult and expensive to clean up. Even a very small amount of mercury that is spilled can contaminate a large area with enough vapors to be hazardous. In addition proper clean up is expensive. A clean up can cost from $5,000 - $15,000! Homeowners and renters insurance may NOT pay for the cleanup!
Read the next section on what to do if you have a mercury spill.
Call (614) 525-3928 or visit USEPA's Mercury web site.
To recycle compact fluorescent lamps, read the last section that covers this information.
I broke a mercury thermometer! What do I do?
Don’t panic! Keep everyone away from the room where the spill occurred. Open the windows near the spill, and close the registers for the heating system in that room.
DON’T TRY TO PICK UP THE MERCURY WITH A SHOP VAC OR HOUSEHOLD VACUUM CLEANER! YOU’LL JUST SPREAD IT FURTHER.
Spill on a hard surface, such as a tile floor or a countertop: Assemble a clean up kit: You’ll need some flexible pieces of cardboard such as playing cards, a plastic bag that will seal tightly closed, and duct or masking tape. Use edges of the cards to push the beads of mercury together. Carefully scoop the mercury onto one of the cards, and then place the cards in the plastic bag. Use duct tape (sticky side out) to try to pick up as many of the small beads as possible. Place the duct tape in the plastic bag, too. Call your local health department or EPA District Office for further instructions.
Spill on a soft surface (Carpeting, bedding:) If the spill occurred on a soft material like carpet or on bed clothes, they will have to be disposed. Here’s how to remove the contaminated item safely:
Carpeting: Look for visible beads of mercury. Carefully cut the carpeting at least 1 foot from the outermost beads. Lift the carpeting away from the tack strip at the wall. Roll the carpeting from the wall toward the center of the piece that has been cut. Stop when you’ve reached the middle. Hold the rolled carpeting in place, and then roll the outer edge (at the wall and tack strip) towards the other roll. Carefully slide the rolled up carpeting into a heavy plastic bag. Put the bag in the trash.
Bedding: Carefully fold the sheet, blanket or comforter so that the mercury cannot roll onto the floor. Roll the edges on each side towards the center to contain the loose mercury. Then put the item in a heavy plastic bag and put the bag in the trash.If you need more information about spill clean-up, call Franklin County Public Health, (614) 525-3928, the Columbus Health Department (614) 645-5625, or the EPA Spill Hotline at 1-800-282-9378.
More and more people in the U.S. are replacing their regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs. CFLs are highly energy efficient, and they can reduce household energy consumption considerably. However, the bulbs contain a small amount of elemental mercury, which can become a problem if the bulb is broken. Elemental mercury is highly toxic, and if released into the air, it could be hazardous if it is not cleaned up properly. The amount of mercury that could be released from a broken bulb is directly related to its age, so a new bulb will have more free mercury metal than a used bulb.
If a compact fluorescent bulb breaks in the house, follow these procedures to clean up the mercury:
Although CFLs last a long time, they will eventually “burn out.” When they do, they should NOT be disposed in the regular trash because they still contain mercury. The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) will accept compact fluorescent lamps at their mobile and permanent household hazardous waste collection facilities. The permanent household hazardous waste collection facility is located at 1249 Essex Avenue (near the Ohio State Fairgrounds). The bulbs, and other household hazardous waste can be dropped off every Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., and every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.For a list of the mobile household hazardous waste collection dates and locations, visit the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio's website.