Safe Clean Up of Mercury Spills

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					 Safe Clean Up of Mercury

What is mercury?                                   the kidneys and oral cavity, including mouth
                                                   inflammation, mouth ulcers and sore gums.
Mercury is a silvery-white liquid metal found in
a number of household items, most commonly
in fever thermometers, cooking thermometers,       How do I safely clean up a small
barometers, thermostats, fluorescent tubes         mercury spill? (such as a fever
and globes.                                        thermometer or barometer).

When liquid mercury is spilled it forms beads      1. Clear the room
or droplets that accumulate in cracks and          Clear the area of people and pets to prevent
small spaces and soaks into fabrics. These         exposure.
droplets then vaporise at room temperature.
Mercury vapours are invisible and odourless.       2. Ventilate
Breathing mercury vapours can be hazardous.        Open all windows and close internal doors of
                                                   the room for 15 minutes before you attempt to
How much mercury is in a thermometer?              clean up. Turn off heating to reduce vapours.
 • Fluorescent light globe: 0.01-0.04 grams        Turn off ducted heating or cooling to prevent
 •     Thermometer/barometer: 0.5 – 0.7            circulating vapours to other parts of the
     grams                                         house.

 •    Thermostat: 3 grams                          3. Never vacuum or sweep
The small amount of mercury in these items is      You will generate more vapours and beads of
unlikely to pose a serious health risk if it is    mercury; you will also contaminate the
immediately cleaned up.                            vacuum cleaner and risk being exposed to
                                                   mercury every time you use it.
Most small spills can be cleaned up easily,
particularly if they are on wooden, tiled, vinyl   4. Clean up carefully
or stone flooring.
                                                         • Take off your watch and any
                                                           jewellery. Put on gloves to protect
What are the health effects of                             your skin and wear old clothes that
mercury?                                                   you can throw away.
The most important route of exposure is
                                                         • Shine a torch on the area to find the
breathing in mercury vapour. Swallowing it or
                                                           mercury drops.
having it touch the skin are not considered to
be important routes of exposure.                         • Use an eyedropper or syringe to pick
Short-term inhalation of mercury vapour                    up droplets. Use a pen or card to
causes coughing, breathlessness and chest                  guide the droplets onto a piece of
tightness within a few hours of exposure.                  card.
Short-term exposure of the eyes to the vapour            • Use sticky tape to pick up smaller
may cause inflammation and eyelid tremor.                  droplets.
Long-term inhalation of mercury vapour may
                                                         • Carefully place the droplets into a
lead to damage to the central nervous system,
                                                           strong plastic container with a lid.

Department of Health
February 2010
5. Afterwards                                     Due to the large amount of mercury, there is
    • Keep windows open and ventilate the         the potential for greater exposure to mercury
      room for a further 24 hours. Air all rugs   vapour during clean up. We recommend that
      or mats outside for at least a week.        in these cases you consider engaging
    • Dispose of items that have come into        professional services to conduct the clean up.
      contact with the mercury (gloves,
      eyedropper, pen, card, broken glass and     1. Evacuate
      clothing) into a plastic bag and place in   Clear the area of people and pets to prevent
      your rubbish bin.                           exposure.
    • Don’t wash contaminated clothing in your
      washing machine. It will contaminate the    2. Ventilate
      washing machine.                            Open all windows and close internal doors of
    • Don’t pour mercury down the sink. It will   the room. Turn off heating to reduce vapours.
      remain in the water trap and continue to    Turn off ducted heating or air conditioning to
      release vapours.                            prevent spreading mercury vapours to other
    • If a spill occurs on carpet, curtains,      parts of the house.
      upholstery or other absorbent surfaces,
      these contaminated items should be          More information
      thrown away, or in the case of carpet,
                                                  Regarding health effects of mercury: Poisons
      the affected portion of the carpet should
                                                  Information on 13 11 26 or your doctor
      be cut out. As the items are porous they
      can not be decontaminated properly and
                                                  Regarding clean up of mercury in the home:
      you can liberate mercury in the air every
                                                  the Department of Human Services
      time you use them.
                                                  Environmental Health Unit on 1300 761 874
                                                  Further information on compact fluorescent
Clean up of a broken fluorescent light            light globes is available on the Department of
globe or tube (CFL)                               the Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts
Breaking a fluorescent light globe or tube is
different to breaking a thermometer because       energyefficiency/lighting/faq-health.html
the mercury is not as obvious. The bulbs
contain a very small amount of mercury            For mercury recycling (eg spent fluorescent
(about the size of a ball point) sealed within    lamps or large quantities of mercury) contact
the glass tubing.                                 Sustainability Victoria on 03 8626 8700:
   1. Ventilate the room                          l/2057-detox-your-home-timetable.asp
   2. Scoop up all the glass fragments and
      powder. Use gloves to protect against       References
      cuts.                                          1.   Mercury-Mercury Exposure and your health.
                                                          Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
   3. Put all the pieces of broken globe or
                                                          Registry, 2006
      tube into a rigid sealed container.            2.   Mercury and your Family, Washington State
   4. Use sticky tape to pick up any                      Department of Health.
      remaining small glass fragments and       
                                                     3.   Mercury Spills in residential settings: Background
   5. Wipe the area clean with damp paper                 information. UK Health Protection Agency
      towels or disposable wet wipes and        
      place them in a glass jar or plastic bag.           gement/incident_management_factsheets/mercu
   6. Continue to ventilate the room for 12-
                                                     4.   Mercury in residential settings: step by step
      24 hours.                                           guide to cleaning up thermometer spills. UK
   7. Dispose of the mercury and any                      Health Protection Agency
      contaminated items in the rubbish.        
      Don’t put them in the recycling.
                                                     5.   Fact sheet on mercury and compact fluorescent
Can I safely clean up a large mercury                     lamps
spill? (ie greater than 2 tablespoons)
E.g a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure                    ry_cfls.htm
monitor)                                             6.   Mercury Spills, Disposal and Site Cleanup. US

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