Is Elemental Mercury Dangerous?

Friday 24th November 2023

Joanna Grimbley-Smith

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Mercury beads on a white surface CONTENTS

The shiny, liquid metal form of mercury that can often be found in antique thermometers or in the school lab might be interesting to look at, but it is very dangerous to be exposed to. Should any spill in your home, you must bring in professionals as soon as possible to clean it up. 

Here at ICE Cleaning, we offer our mercury clean up and disposal services nationwide. Our hazardous chemical clean up specialists can handle and dispose of mercury, no matter how big the spill or where it took place. In an emergency, they can be on site in a matter of hours. 

Keep reading to learn more about the dangers of elemental mercury and what to do if it spills in your home. 

What is elemental mercury?

Elemental mercury, often simply called 'mercury', is a naturally occurring metal that's liquid at room temperature. It forms tiny beads when spilled or disturbed which can easily split up and roll along surfaces. 

There are two other forms of mercury: methylmercury and inorganic mercury compounds. Exposure to the former usually occurs when people eat shellfish and fish that contain high levels of methylmercury. It is a neurotoxin which can cause a number of health problems including loss of peripheral vision, a lack of coordination, muscle weakness, and impairment of speech and hearing. 

Inorganic mercury compounds, like mercuric chloride, are used in industrial processes and the making of chemicals. 

Elemental mercury used to be used in many items including thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs, and electrical switches. Due to the health risks associated with spills and exposure, such appliances are no longer manufactured with mercury in them. However, there are plenty of antiques that still contain mercury and it is used for dental fillings. 

Is mercury dangerous?

Metallic or elemental mercury produces an invisible, odourless vapour. When inhaled, it can be absorbed through the lungs and trigger a range of health problems including:

  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Emotional changes, like mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Neuromuscular changes
  • Kidney effects
  • Respiratory failure

Prolonged exposure can even prove fatal. If swallowed, elemental mercury will not be fully absorbed by your body but will instead pass through your digestive system. Repeated ingestion might still cause kidney damage due to small amounts being absorbed each time. 

Thorough, prompt clean up of spills is critical to get rid of all the mercury. Even small amounts left behind can slowly evaporate, putting people at risk in danger for a long period of time. You can find out more about the health effects of mercury exposure here

What to do when mercury spills

First, evacuate the room. Then, shut all doors and windows leading into other rooms, but open external ones if possible - this helps ventilate the room while stopping the vapours travelling elsewhere in your property.

Next, reach out to professionals. ICE Cleaning’s specialists can quickly deal with the spill, including cleaning up very small droplets that can roll into crevices or away from the affected area. They even have specialist equipment that can flush out vapours from the air. 

Professionals will dispose of the spilled mercury and hazardous waste correctly according to local regulations, too, and give you peace of mind that your home is safe. You can learn more about disposing of mercury products safely in this blog. 

Should the spill occur in your workplace and you have spill kits on hand as well as the training to use them, you can tend to the spill yourself. 

Mistakes To Avoid When Dealing With Spilled Mercury

  • Don't clean up with regular household tools like vacuum cleaners or brooms. These devices break down larger droplets into smaller beads that are more difficult to find and clean up. Hoovers can also warm up the mercury and encourage it to evaporate.
  • Avoid pouring any leftover liquid mercury down drains. It could get stuck within plumbing systems, causing prolonged exposure issues, and lead to the pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
  • Don't wash contaminated clothes as washing machines can also become polluted.
  • Make sure no one walks through the spill area or mercury could be trodden around the rest of the property.

Why you should bring in specialist cleaners for mercury spills

Firstly, specialist cleaning teams use state-of-the-art tools and equipment specifically designed for handling toxic substances such as elemental mercury.

They will have also undergone rigorous training on safety protocols to protect their customers against the dangers of mercury, and prevent further spread of the mercury vapour during clean up.

Professional cleaners will follow stringent regulations about hazardous waste disposal, ensuring that remnants of spilled mercury don’t end up causing more harm elsewhere. Mismanagement can lead to environmental damage or even legal penalties.

Specialist services include post-clean assessments to confirm that all traces of elemental mercury have been safely removed from your premises, too.

Contact us today

Our fully trained technicians can decontaminate the area safely and quickly. They will collect all the visible mercury, dispose of hazardous waste, and test the air to ensure all mercury vapours have been eliminated. 

You can find out more about our mercury spill cleaning services by getting in touch with our team on 0208 066 0360 or enquiries@icecleaning.co.uk

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