Broken Mercury Thermometer

stir_fryiMay 10, 2009

Last night my DD had a 100.2 temp so this am I went to take her temp and dropped the mercury thermometer on the granite counter! My digital needed a battery so I was using this old one instead.

I looked up on the net how to clean it up and it got me really upset. Seemed like I needed everyone to evacuate and put on a haz mat suit.

I wore gloves and pushed the mercury beads (that I could find) into a glass jar. I used tape to pick up the really little ones. Then I washed down the whole countertop and washed down my wood floor around it.

Hopefully, I got it all but who really knows?

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You'll be fine.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2009 at 10:28AM
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Funny - I told my family about this incident today and my brother recalled playing with little balls of mercury in chemistry class in high school.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2009 at 8:42PM
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I played with mecury as a kid a couple times. Fun stuff.
One of my best friends a 'science nut', had a pill bottle full - heavy!.

We're both still alive, last I knew.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 3:07AM
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I remember playing with it too. I got in trouble for breaking all the thermometers in the house to get more once I found out how cool it was.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2009 at 11:41PM
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We covered a penny with mercury & passed it around chemistry or physics class. We all handled it & rubbed it & thought it was cool. A lot of fuss about nothing. Of course you don't want your kid eating the stuff!!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2009 at 1:38AM
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Here in Columbus, OH a few weeks ago someone had donated a BP cuff w/mercury meter to the Volunteers of America Thrift Store. It broke in the store. The city shut the store down, made them throw away everything in the store including the racks, cash registers, etc and have FEMA come in and wash it all down, repaint everything, recover the floor with new lineolium, etc.

It cost the Volunteers charity over $300K to do it all, then they had to start from scratch with donations to stock the store. It all took about 4 weeks to do.

They're repopened now All of that for 1 broken blood pressure cuff!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2009 at 11:17AM
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I remember playing with Mercury, too. I also remember a supervisor at one of my jobs just throwing hundreds of fluorescent bulbs in the trash compactor. The problem with Mercury is the long term effects. You'll probably never be able to link an ailment of yourself or someone else in the future with the Mercury contact from years ago.

I'm glad you made a conscious effort to clean up your spill safely. How did you end up disposing of the jar and the items you used to clean the area?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2009 at 1:46PM
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So, how did the city of Columbus officials find out about the spilled Mercury?

What a "make work" project that turned out to be, eh? Think of all the junk that was added to the waste stream or wound up in the hazardous waste dump...all probably unnecessary. Someone's insurance company took the hit for that one!

Good Lord! What a bunch of wusses we're becoming! I remember playing with little balls of Mercury also. Granted that it is a dangerous substance, but where has simple common sense gone to in America today? Gather up the offending little balls, properly dispose of them, clean the floor and be done with it! We make such a big deal out of what should be very little.

Never ceases to amaze me...

    Bookmark   May 17, 2009 at 3:10PM
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When I was a kid back in the late 50's & early 60's mercury was commonly called "Quick Silver"

When I was in grade school my uncle was a heating contractor. My cousins and I used to steal all the old T/stats out of his junk pile, then we would break the glass vials open and collect the mercury. In fact, I still have a full pint can of mercury in my basement.

As a kid we used to dip a penny in mercury then rub it with our fingers and it would polish up like a brand new dime.

In school we did that then passed them off in the cafeteria to buy ice cream bars for a nickle each, or more often than not we would take them to the corner store and con the poor old lady who ran the store out of 10 cents worth of penny candy.

To top it off, my cousin had a little toy electric lead melting pot and a set of molds to make lead soldiers.

We used to go the the grocery store and steal the lead balance weights off of ppl's car tires, then we melted the lead, cast the soldiers and coated them with mercury to make them shine. Oh, and did i mention that we did not have any pliers or wire cutters to trim the lead so we just bit the excess off with our teeth. Such was the life of 8 to 12yr old boys in those days.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2009 at 12:27AM
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I played with mercury as a kid too. We all knew better than to drink the stuff, tho'!

I remember when we used to go fresh water fishing. I used a Penn 101 fishing reel with 8-pound test line and split lead sinkers - except we called 'em "bite-on sinkers". Can you guess why :-D

    Bookmark   June 18, 2009 at 1:13PM
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My dad used to play w/mercury when a child and kept it under his bed. In his early 20's he had a non malignant tumor removed from his nasal cavity. Surgeon told him there were grayish streaks in it. Was it mercury? They didn't test it to find out. Never had any problems since.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 11:23AM
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The important thing to remember about cleaning up Mercury is NOT to use a vacuum to clean it up. Vacuuming aerosolizes it and makes it easy for exposure. Mercury finds it more difficult to penetrate the skin. I'm glad you did not spill it on carpet, you probably got all of it safely.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 7:55PM
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From Wikipedia, filling amalgam is 47 to 54 percent mercury.

So which is worse, playing with mercury or having a mouthful of mercury fillings?

Now we have one government agency going overboard on clean-up and another that sanctions the use of mercury in your mouth.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2009 at 10:19AM
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"So which is worse, playing with mercury or having a mouthful of mercury fillings?"

Playing with mercury.
The mercury is bound to the silver and is not available.

Mercury vapor is the issue, not the liquid metal itself.

The more you break up the little droplets the more surface area you create and the faster it will vaporize.

Handling it for a brief time is not going to create enough risk to worry about, and you cannot absorb it through your skin.

Sprinkling sulfur on the spilled drops makes them easier to collect up.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2009 at 1:46PM
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I'm familiar with the story about the mercury spill at the VOA store, and what you have heard is somewhat distorted. The local health agency did come in and do a cleanup with vacuums, but no one forced the store to throw away anything. The store was told that it could temporarily choose to place potentially contaminated merchandise in a quarantined area so that an air test could be done, but the store decided that, since they had gotten all of their inventory for free, it would be simpler to throw it out and ask for more donations. The thrown out stuff went to a regular dump. The $300K was someone's estimate of what the merchandise would have been worth if they sold it. They apparently got a lot of new donations immediately and really didn't suffer much of a loss. But I can understand how a story like this could have grown to urban legend size by the time you heard it.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2009 at 2:16PM
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Well, if they threw out the entire inventory, 99.9% of which probably never came in contact with a drop of liquid mercury, that was dumb, IMHO. There is not going to be enough mercury vaporized and re-deposited throughout the store merchandise to amount to a hill of beans. I would have thought about discarding only the stuff it was actually spilled onto. They probably didn't have a very knowledgeable person to consult with. What a sad waste of resources.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2009 at 2:55PM
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The hazardous response people were knowledgeable (I know because I talked with the guy who was in charge of the cleanup and my background is environmental engineering), but the store people made a decision for whatever reason to throw things out.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2009 at 2:04PM
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When my father worked for Rheingold beer in Brooklyn NY in the 60's a copper tube came from a refrigeration unit which dripped mercury into a floor drain. That wasn't bad enough, after learning that this stuff could be sold for $90/lb. at the scrap yard, he (and I a 10 year old at the time) took home tons of this stuff to sell. Of course I played with it, submerged my arm all the way up to my elbow, a container fell over in the station wagon, vacuumed up most of what we could get. The rest remained there for a while until it all evaporated. To make matters worse, my father coated our silverware with the mercury and all 6 of us kids ate with this stuff until it finally returned to a dull silver color again. I can�t say that anyone really has any ill health effects from this exposure. My mother was even pregnant at the time. This is pretty amazing considering the exposure had to be pretty extreme for most of us. Though I don�t doubt Mercury�s hazard to human health. I wonder how much of this stuff ended up on the floor of NY harbor since this was a common practice back then.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2011 at 5:05PM
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I broke a mercury thermometer in my car this weekend. I was in the driver's seat and I shook it and hit something, and the bottom broke off. I had stuff on the front passenger seat and the car hasn't been vacuumed in awhile, so trying to see anything that came out of the thermometer was impossible. I was sick with bronchitis and I just threw out the thermometer and went to bed! That was a few days ago. Now I've read all there is to read and am completely freaked out!! I was just in my car and spotted a couple of tiny silver balls on the console. I'm going to try to scoop them up and any others I can find. But whatever landed on my seat and my rug...? I can't be ripping out the seat of the car! The car is 9 months old. I'm afraid to even keep it now. I can't NOT ever get the car cleaned again! No where online does it say WHEN IT DISSIPATES AND IS NO LONGER A DANGER. ANYONE HAVE A GUESS? THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 3:38PM
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Nancy, take a deep breath and read the post above yours.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 6:25PM
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It's good to be cautious with hazardous materials, but this isn't nerve gas or the Fukushima nuclear plant. I worked for many years advising the public on environmental hazards and talking to people like you who had learned just enough on the Internet about some perceived risk to scare the beejeezus out of themselves. I'm not making light of your's just that not all environmental hazards are equal, and what happened to you is so far down the risk scale that you probably have more to fear from your elevated blood pressure than anything the mercury could do to you. If you see more mercury, remove it from the car. There may be no more mercury to collect, but, if there is any, it won't pose a health risk unless you go around the car licking all the carpets and upholstery.

Wear your seat belt, don't smoke, and look both ways when you cross the street. That will take care of 99% of the environmental risk in your life.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 5:38AM
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All I have to say is that if my father was never a painter, never worked with lead doing auto repair, and never played with Mercury when he was a kid, he would still be with us today. Sadly I lost him when he was 95.

A little drop of Mercury is not the end of the world. You stand the chance of winning the lottery or getting hit by lightning before that little spill will get you.

New media gets wind of things, puts it on the news, and all of a sudden the whole world gets in a panic. I'd be more worried about handling items shipped over from China with the lead paint and Lord knows whatever other toxic stuff is mixed in with items just to get rid of their waste.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 1:18PM
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You did a great DIY job! You should have used a flashlight to ensure that the spill were all cleaned up!

    Bookmark   December 17, 2014 at 10:27PM
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This is a 2-yr old thread so who knows if anyone will see your post elleau. :-]

However I did want to add one thing since we're here: there are different chemical forms of mercury and they have different toxicities. When mercury is released into waterways it's metabolized by sediment microbes into methylmercury, which is accumulated by fish. Methylmercury is more toxic than metallic (elemental) mercury. There was a terrible event in Japan in the 60s or 70s where many people were poisoned, birth defects, etc. Look up "Minimata Mercury" if you want to learn more about it.

It does not take much methylmercury to cause birth defects, but at the same time, breaking a mercury thermometer is not a giant disaster either.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2015 at 12:57PM
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