How To Clean A Mercury Spill From A Thermometer

Thursday 8th December 2022

Joanna Grimbley-Smith

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broken thermometer with mercury coming out

CONTENTS

Many household items contain mercury, like thermometers, barometers, and fluorescent lightbulbs. Should they break, they could escape and spill in your home. Even the smallest amount must be removed, and the area decontaminated to avoid putting your health at risk.

At ICE Cleaning, we can clean up any mercury spill, no matter the size. Our specialist technicians can be on-site in an emergency in an hour, and are available 365 days a year, 24/7.

Keep reading to find out what to do if it leaks from your thermometer.

Is spilled mercury dangerous?

Mercury is a silver-white heavy metal that is a liquid at room temperature. When heated, it becomes a colourless, odourless gas that you could inhale without knowing.

This toxic element causes serious health problems whether breathed in, touched, or consumed. It can damage the nervous system, immune system, liver, and kidneys, and is especially dangerous for pregnant women and children.

Here are some of the health effects you may experience if you come in contact with it:

  • Eye, skin, and stomach irritation
  • Coughing and difficulty breathing
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Exhaustion and feeling weak

The vapour of the elemental mercury found in thermometers is one of its most dangerous forms. It evaporates very slowly – for days or weeks, depending on the amount - so all traces must be cleaned up to minimise long term health risks. You can find out more about the dangers in this blog.

Does your thermometer have mercury in it?

Most modern thermometers now contain coloured alcohol, instead, due to the health hazards. Should it break, you can tell whether the liquid that has spilled is mercury by the silver colour. If it is red, it is alcohol. There might also be a warning on the item stating whether it contains the toxic liquid.

What you should do in the event of a mercury spill

Contain the affected area

First, make sure everyone has evacuated the area. Then, close any doors leading to other rooms so vapours can’t escape into the rest of the property. Ventilate the affected area by opening windows and doors that lead outside.

Clear away the broken item

The broken thermometer and shards of glass will first need to be picked up carefully and then disposed of according to local regulations.

You should not attempt this yourself. Exposure to mercury without the proper PPE puts your health at risk, and you could injure yourself, too. Professional cleaners will have the right gear and equipment to safely remove and dispose of contaminated items.

Clean up the mercury

You should not attempt this yourself as it is very difficult without the right equipment because it breaks into small droplets which get into cracks and crevices. Fail to remove all traces of the mercury, and you and your loved ones could be at risk of inhaling the dangerous vapours over several weeks.

Instead, hire professionals who have the right training, experience, and equipment to thoroughly clean the affected area. You can find out more about their cleaning process here.

Dispose of the mercury

Mercury is hazardous waste, so it must be disposed properly of according to local regulations. If it is thrown in the bin, it might find its way into the local environment. This could kill wildlife and contaminate bodies of water, which could also put people at risk of consuming it via seafood.

Fully trained technicians should dispose of the element. ICE Cleaning’s teams have lots of experience cleaning up and disposing of dangerous substances, including chemicals. They are fully permitted to handle and dispose of mercury.

After the decontamination, make sure you keep the affected area well ventilated for at least 24 hours to ensure all the vapours have been removed from your home.

What not to do when mercury spills

  • Use a vacuum cleaner to suck it up: while it may remove a lot of the visible mercury from the surface quickly, this will put it into the air and increase exposure.
  • Sweep it with a broom: this will break it into smaller droplets and spread it over a larger area.
  • Pour it down a drain: it might get lodged in your plumbing and could pollute your septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
  • Walk through it: your shoes can get contaminated and spread it around your home. Make sure you have professionals remove and dispose of all potentially affected clothing according to local regulations.

Get in touch

Our technicians can take care of the entire mercury clean-up process for you, from removing all traces of the spill to disposing of the contaminated objects properly.

Get in touch with our friendly support team on 0208 066 0360 or enquiries@icecleaning.co.uk to learn more about our mercury cleaning services.

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