What To Do In The Event Of A Mercury Spill

Friday 26th March 2021

Sophie

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CONTENTS

Though incredibly rare, mercury spillages do happen. If a mercury spill were to take place in your home, would you know what to do?

It’s unlikely that you would.

Many of us do not realise the extent to which mercury is used in everyday objects. From light bulbs to thermometers, mercury is widely recognised as a source of power. Yet, the dangers of mercury are hardly brought to the surface

Most people are not aware of the hazardous nature of mercury. In fact, many are of the opinion that they do not need to know. However, in the event of a mercury spill, it’s crucial that the situation is handled in a safe, orderly manner. Else, the risk of injury will be high.

Dangers of mercury spillages

Mercury is an incredibly dangerous chemical, regarded as a biohazard by global authorities. Exposure to mercury – even small amounts – can cause serious health problems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers mercury one of the most harmful chemicals of major public health concern. Direct contact or inhalation of mercury can have toxic effects on the human body, and should be avoided at all costs.

There are several factors which will determine the severity of mercury-related health problems. These include:

  • The state of mercury
  • The quantity of mercury
  • The duration of exposure
  • The age and general health of the person(s) involved
  • The route of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, physical contact, etc.)

What many people do not realise is that, if left at room temperature, exposed mercury can evaporate to become an invisible, odourless vapour. This makes the element difficult to detect, heightening the risk of health complications.

Physical contact

Direct contact with mercury in liquid form is likely to cause irritation and chemical burns. Your skin may become also become clammy.

If you do happen to come into physical contact with mercury, it’s best to seek immediate medical attention. Whilst waiting for an ambulance, wash your skin with warm water for at least 15 minutes to remove as much of the substance as possible.

It’s likely that the mercury will leave behind permanent stains on your clothing and other surfaces. Therefore, any contaminated items should be removed and disposed of accordingly.

Some symptoms may take a while to appear, so even if you feel fine initially, you may suffer as time goes on. Mercury has been known to affect your mental state too, so you may not be the best judge of character in the moment.

Inhalation

Inhalation of mercury vapours can be exceptionally dangerous. There is a high possibility that the toxic vapours will affect your immune system, digestive system, kidney or lungs.

You may experience:

  • Memory loss
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Motor dysfunction
  • Neuromuscular effects

In extreme cases, inhalation can be fatal.

How to prevent incidents

In the event of an oil spill, you should call for professional assistance immediately. Whilst waiting for help to arrive, there are a number of steps you can take to prevent incidents.

If you haven’t already, evacuate the affected area. You should leave the site as soon as possible to minimise the risk of exposure and ensure no mercury touches your clothes, shoes or skin. Any contaminated layers of clothing should be removed and disposed of accordingly.

Before you leave the site, don’t forget to turn your air conditioning off. Whilst it’s fine to open windows to allow toxic vapours to escape, an air conditioning unit will encourage contaminated air to circulate within the property.

Once you’ve cleared the site, make sure to barricade the area to stop others from entering. You can do this by putting signs up around the vicinity or physically blocking access to the area.

If the spill has taken place in a domestic setting, extra caution must be taken. Children are unlikely to realise the dangers of mercury, so will not know to avoid the spill. They may even be fascinated by it. Either way, it’s crucial to keep children and pets away at all times.

What if you cannot leave the property?

If you’re unable to remove yourself from the affected area, try to cover your face and skin. Ideally, some form of rubber, latex or nitrile gloves and a filtered face mask should be worn.

Whilst your main concern might be the mercury itself, beware of sharp items in the property. For example, if a thermometer has broken, there may be shattered glass on the ground too.

You should not attempt to move or pick up sharp items without adequate protective gear. Do not attempt to vacuum or dispose of mercury or other contaminated items without professional assistance, as this could result in injury (Department of Health).

A professional mercury clean-up company will know how to handle and dispose of potential hazards, so leave it to them. They’ll also have access to specialist tools and equipment, including personal protective equipment (PPE).

The clean-up process

Once the experts have arrived on site, they will first seal off any affected areas to prevent the wider public from getting in harm’s way. The aim of any hazardous chemical clean-up crew is to maintain a safe working environment at all times.

Here at ICE Cleaning, we handle mercury spills in 4 steps:

1.    Contain the mercury

We’ll use specialist equipment to contain all traces of mercury. The sooner we’re called to the site, the easier the element will be to contain.

Failure to contain the mercury could lead to further spread of toxic vapours.

2.    Extract the mercury from the site

Once contained, we’ll use professional tools to extract the mercury from the site.

Due to its hazardous nature, mercury must be handled and transported in line with strict health and safety regulations.

3.    Dispose of the mercury

The mercury must also be disposed of in accordance with industry regulations. The chemical contains toxic

Our technicians have undergone thorough health and safety training to understand the risks involved with a variety of biohazards, including mercury, and are fully certified to safely dispose of such elements.

4.    Decontaminate the affected area

After the mercury has been dealt with, the entire site must be decontaminated. From this, we intend to leave behind a clean, safe environment for all parties involved.

Following the clean-up process, we request that you open windows to ventilate the area. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that windows should remain open for at least 24 hours after clean-up.

Get in touch

To find out more about our mercury clean-up process, give our friendly support team a call on 0333 577 5805 or email us on enquiries@icecleaning.co.uk. We’re available around the clock and can be on site in just 60 minutes in an emergency.

Mercury spills should not be treated lightly, which is why we’ll only send qualified technicians to the site. Our technicians hold a number of professional accreditations, such as Safe Contractor and IOSH. We’re also a member of BICSc.

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Eliot Nichols

Eliot Nichols

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