Liquid Mercury is a highly toxic chemical. It can be found in a variety of places including thermometers, barometers and float valves. Sometimes electric components, like relays and switches, contain mercury. It is often in fluorescent lighting.
And it is not to be trifled with.
A mercury spill in your home should be treated with the utmost seriousness.
In the worst case scenario, mishandling this spill poses a risk of mercury poisoning for anyone who comes into contact with it. Poisoning can occur through absorption, direct skin contact, ingestion or vapor inhalation.
Even minimum exposure to mercury can be deadly.
Here are some important points to remember:
- Do not vacuum the mercury spill.
The vacuum’s suction pressure will force microscopic mercury particles into the air instead of containing the mercury. This means there is higher mercury exposure to anyone in the surrounding area. Simply put, a vacuum cleaner on a mercury spill is equivalent to tossing gasoline into a fire. It’s the wrong thing to do.
- Do not sweep up the mercury spill with a broom.
All you will be doing with a broom is spreading the problem around. You are taking a big problem and making it far worse. No matter how many drops of mercury are originally spilled, employing a broom on the spill means you are creating many more drops. Using a broom means you aren’t sweeping up the problem, you’re spreading it around.
- Never pour mercury down a drain. If discharged, it can cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant. It may cause continuous problems during plumbing repairs.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has guidelines to follow regarding the cleanup of a small mercury spill (less than a pound): Have everyone else leave the area, do not let anyone walk through the mercury on their way out of the area, open all windows and doors to the outside, turn down the temperature and shut all doors to other parts of the house — and then YOU should leave the area. Call your local health department as soon as possible and, if it is after hours, you should call the fire department.
- If the mercury spill is over a pound, according to the EPA, “it is mandatory to call the National Response Center (NRC),” which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week 800-424-8802.
For an in-home small mercury spill, Stephen Peterson, 13-year Industrial Waste Surveillance Compliance Manager for Four Rivers Sanitation Authority (Northern Illinois), says “Use the proper PPE, eye googles and use a respirator if you have one to put the spilled mercury in a glass container.
“While cleaning the spill, never use a vacuum cleaner, never use a broom. Instead you dab, dab, dab; absorb it in paper towels, rags. And let it dry, do not let it become aromatic.
“Do NOT pour it in any drain.”
For citizens that live in the northern part of Illinois, Peterson recommends reaching out to “Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful,” located in Rockford.
“They’re very helpful,” Peterson said. “You can visit their website (www.knib.org) or call them directly (815-637-1343).”
If you live in the western suburbs of Chicagoland, it may be beneficial to contact “Household Hazardous Waste Facility” (https://www.naperville.il.us/) in Naperville. This facility is available for disposal of household hazardous waste, including mercury, and can provide you further information at 630-420-6095.
This article is published by HazChem Environmental in Addison, Illinois. HazChem only cleans business-related mercury spills, not home mercury spills.