Mercury is very useful for a lot of things, but at the same time, it’s very toxic to the human nervous system. This happens because mercury vapours are fast absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream. People are confronted with mercury exposure when mercury products such as fluorescent lamps or thermometers are broken in their home.
Even if many of them still have such devices in their home, they don’t know what to do in case an accident happens as even a very small amount of liquid mercury can be very harmful to their health. Additionally, this substance is very dangerous as from only a single small spill, mercury vapours can linger in very high concentrations in the air.
There are special recommendations in case mercury spill takes place, but there are also cases when people have to call for professional assistance. Professional assistance is necessary when larger amounts of mercury are widely dispersed in the room, on a porous surface such as a carpet, but also when people have no idea what to do when something like this happens.
To clean up small liquid mercury spills, people have to:
- evacuate the spill area and be sure that people that were in the room where the spill took place, don’t have mercury droplets on their shoes, clothing or on something else; in case this has happened, people should remove the items and put them in a plastic bag
- turn down the thermostat in order to lower the temperature because if the temperature is cooler, less mercury vapours will be released in the air
- turn off air conditioning or central ventilation because these could make the air circulate from the spill area to other parts of a home
- close interior doors that lead to other rooms, ventilate the room where the spill took place to the outdoors; they can do that by opening only exterior doors and windows or by placing fans facing out in open windows or doors to accelerate ventilation
- use clean-up supplies such as latex or rubber gloves, garbage bags, damp paper towels, as well as tape, sealable plastic bags, cardboard, wide mouth plastic contained with a lid
- remove all jewellery from their hands and wrists and dress up in shoes and clothes that can be easily and fast discarded if they are contaminated
- keep the mercury from draining in the floor, cracks, crevices, porous surfaces; in this case, people can use duct tape to isolate the mercury droplets and confine them to a limited area where they are easier to clean up
- pick up all visible and larger mercury droplets using eyedroppers, stiff paper, as well as flash light to find more droplets, pieces of fabric or if the spill is severe, they should call for professional assistance
- spread fine zinc powder or elemental sulfur powder on the spill site and then collect this powder with a moist paper
- everything they have used to clean up the spill site have to be placed in sealed plastic containers or airtight, sealable
After they have done all these very important things, people still have to ventilate, wash their animals, humans that were in that area have to also wash, replace mercury devices with non-mercury ones, but never replace mercury contaminated fabrics in a washing machine or dryer.