What Is The Mercury Spill Clean Up Procedure?

Tuesday 9th January 2024

Joanna Grimbley-Smith

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Mercury in a vial

CONTENTS

Mercury, though once common in various household and industrial items, poses serious risks if spilled. Quick, thorough clean up is essential after a spillage, otherwise you could put yourself and others in danger of serious health problems. 

Here at ICE Cleaning, we offer our rapid response mercury cleaning services nationwide. Our technicians can clean up all traces of the harmful liquid metal, and test for vapours to make sure your property is safe again. 

Keep reading to learn more about how professionals clean up mercury. 

What is mercury?

Mercury, often known as quicksilver, is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is unique among metals because it is liquid at room temperature. When touched, it splits into tiny beads that can roll along surfaces and fall into small crevices.

Mercury used to be used in lots of appliances including thermometers, barometers, blood pressure cuffs, and energy saving CFL bulbs. But due to the dangers associated with elemental mercury, now it is illegal to sell products that contain it. 

In homes and workplaces alike, elemental mercury might be lurking where you least expect it. The most common cause of spills in the home, for example, is antique items that contain mercury breaking. 

Some workplaces are also at risk of mercury spills. Some industrial processes use large amounts of mercury, such as for chlor-alkali production or gold mining operations. You can find out more about mercury here

The dangers of elemental mercury

Elemental mercury is a neurotoxin that slowly evaporates to produce a harmful vapour that is dangerous to inhale. When breathed in and absorbed into the lungs, it can put you at risk of a number of health problems including:

  • Eye and skin irritation
  • Coughing and chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches
  • Weakness and exhaustion
  • Weight loss

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to exposure to mercury as their unborn children might experience delayed developmental milestones.

Another problem is that mercury can contaminate everything it comes in contact with and must therefore be disposed of carefully. Throwing beads down the drain, for example, can cause it to contaminate water systems and get caught in the plumbing. Putting contaminated clothes in the washing machine can have similar effects, as well as lead to contamination of the washing machine itself. 

You can find out more about the dangers of exposure to elemental mercury in this blog. 

Why mercury clean up should always be left to professionals

If you're dealing with a mercury spill, you must bring in specialist cleaners. Mercury is not just any liquid that can wiped up - it's a highly dangerous substance that can have severe repercussions on health if not cleaned up and disposed of appropriately.

Cleaning up mercury spills requires specialised knowledge and equipment. Professionals will have the personal protective equipment to protect their health, as well as the specialist tools for thorough removal. ICE Cleaning's technicians can even test the mercury vapour in the property to see if mercury is present and verify all has been removed. 

Should you attempt mercury clean up yourself, it is unlikely you will clean up all traces of the mercury. As even small amounts can evaporate very slowly, removal of the tiniest beads is critical. 

You could make the situation worse, such as trying to hoover up the mercury or using a broom to sweep it up. Both can split it into small beads, and the former helps it evaporate more. 

Not closing off the affected area and ventilating it thoroughly could cause mercury to be trodden through the property, and allow mercury vapours to build up or travel around the property. 

If a spill occurs in the workplace and you have a mercury spill kit on site, people trained to use it must follow the mercury spill kit procedure closely. 

What is the mercury spill clean up procedure?

Put on protective gear

The first step in any professional clean-up operation involves suiting up correctly. Specialists wear personal protective equipment (PPE) that includes respirators fitted with mercury vapour cartridges, gloves and shoe coverings to prevent skin contact.

Safety doesn’t stop at clothing either; securing the area plays a crucial part as well. It means setting up barriers or tape around the affected zone to keep people out while professionals work their magic.

Making mercury visible

Mercury particles are often so minute that they require expert detection techniques to be made visible. Pros often use materials like sulphur powder which binds with mercury and creates a visible compound so professional cleaners can make sure no speck goes unnoticed. This stage is all about being thorough, so every surface gets checked meticulously.

Capturing every bead

The collection of these tiny droplets requires specialist vacuum cleaners designed specifically for hazardous substances, or sticky tapes that pick them right off surfaces without spreading them further. Each action must ensure containment rather than dispersal of this toxic element.

Purifying air quality

Air purification systems are used next to filter out harmful vapours from breathing spaces. Air quality is monitored after clean up to ensure all the mercury has been removed and the space is safe again. Professionals then dispose of the hazardous waste appropriately according to local regulations. 

Contact us today

If it's an emergency, our mercury clean up experts can be on site within several hours of your call, no matter where you are in the UK. 

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

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