Mercury is one of the most toxic and environmentally damaging materials we encounter daily. A lot of people are not aware of the dangers of this substance.
However, there are local, state, and federal laws concerning the disposal of this liquid metal. It also has the potential for environmental damage. This shows how careful you must be when handling and disposing of mercury.
Also, because mercury is a liquid metal, sometimes materials that have mercury might fall and spill. You have to be extra careful while handling such spills because they are just as dangerous to the environment.
Why is Mercury Dangerous?
Mercury is a chemical element. Despite being a metal, it is a liquid at room temperature. Its chemical qualities make it valuable for various electrical gadgets and industrial uses, but it is also extremely dangerous to people. Mercury, a contaminant, remains in the atmosphere for a long time.
Mercury has three chemical forms, the most prevalent of which is methylmercury, which humans ingest through fish consumption. Methylmercury has been linked to neurological development problems in fetuses, infants, and children.
Other types of mercury can harm the lungs, digestive tract, kidneys, and brain system. A mercury leak can cause hazardous vapor to be released into the air, posing a health risk.
What Items Contain Mercury?
More items than we know contain mercury. Our household items, like older model electric appliances, including chest freezers, space heaters, clothes dryers, clothes irons, and washing machines, may contain mercury switches that turn the device on or off or turn a light on or off. Even lightbulbs, like fluorescent bulbs, compact fluorescent light bulbs, high-intensity discharge lamps, ultraviolet lamps, and neon lights.
Gas-fired appliances may contain mercury, including ovens, water heaters, furnaces, pool heaters, and appliances in some recreational vehicles. Some batteries also contain mercury.
Mercury is used in LCD screens and monitors. It is also used in laptop screen shutoffs.
Some medical equipment and pharmaceuticals also contain mercury, such as antibiotics; blood pressure cuffs; contact lens solution; dental amalgam; ear and eye drops; eye ointment; hemorrhoid relief ointment; Mercurochrome; nasal spray; and thermometers.
Though most skin creams do not contain mercury, some of them meant for skin lightening include mercury and should be avoided at all costs because mercury can be absorbed through the skin, so it’ll likely cause skin poisoning or worse.
To be sure if a product contains mercury or not, read through the product description or check their website.
How Can I Safely Dispose of Mercury?
Mercury is classified as a hazardous waste. When mercury-containing items are discarded, the mercury does not vanish; instead, it enters the environment. As a result, mercury-containing items cannot be thrown away or poured down the drain. Mercury compounds and products must be recycled or disposed of as hazardous waste. Here are some of the ways to go about it properly.
Recycle Mercury-Containing Products
Recycling mercury-containing products is one of the best ways to help prevent mercury releases to the environment by keeping these products out of landfills and incinerators. Once landfilled, mercury from the products may end up in groundwater and potentially in drinking water sources. If incinerated, mercury may end up in the air.
Verify If the Items Contains Mercury
Mercury is an extremely toxic material, and items that contain mercury should be handled with care. To first dispose of mercury, be sure that the item contains mercury. You can check your item specifications online to be sure.
Many household products contain mercury. While these are typically harmless unless the product breaks, they must be disposed of as hazardous waste, not in the regular trash.
Put Them in a Trash Bag
Put the item you’re about to dispose of in a trash bag, tightly seal it, and label it with hazardous waste. This is to make sure that other people are careful with it to avoid anything spilling or breaking.
Find a Recycling Facility
Visit Earth911.com and enter the type of object you are recycling and your city or zip code. A list of nearby addresses should appear that can recycle your mercury waste.
If you cannot find a nearby recycling center, search online for an “environmental regulation office” or “environmental health department” in your area that can inform you about legal disposal requirements. If you have a large amount of mercury to dispose of, you may be required to dispose of it through a professional or government cleanup service.
How to Deal with Mercury Spills
It is highly recommended to be extra careful with mercury and mercury-related items, but if by mistake it spills, here’s what you can do.
First, do not stay in the room while thinking about what to do. Close all windows and doors where the mercury has spilled and leave the room as fast as possible. Put a sign outside that area to ensure that nobody enters there!
Do not hesitate to call a professional if it’s a large spill. Large spills can range from anything less than two spoons or more. You’re sure to find professionals by searching online.
If it is a small spill that you’re confident you can handle on your own, put on gloves, old clothing, and old shoes, and remove jewelry. Wear rubber, nitrile, latex, or vinyl gloves whenever handling mercury. Wear old clothes and shoes, as you may need to throw them away afterward. Because mercury can react with metals, remove all jewelry and piercings, especially gold.
Collect very small amounts of mercury with adhesive tape or an eyedropper. Store it in a sealed plastic container for transport to a household hazardous waste collection.
If the mercury spilled onto surfaces such as a rug or other related material, there’s no saving it. The best you can do is cut out the part where it was spilled and throw it away. Do not try to wash it as it can contaminate your washing machine and pollute your water system.
When you’re done with this, discard all the items and clothes you used for this task. Again, do not try to wash them.
Leave the windows open to ventilate the room. Stay away from the room in the meantime, and keep everyone else out of it.
Other Tips and Precautions
- Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up a mercury spill. It contaminates the vacuum cleaner and spreads to other parts of the room.
- Do not buy mercury-containing products unless they’re absolutely necessary.
- Mercury can impair the way we see, hear, and function. This is why we should be very careful with its handling.
- Regardless of how much or little your spill is, it is advisable to call a professional at all times to avoid getting hurt.
- Do not throw mercury in the trash for any reason.
When Should I Call a Professional for Mercury Disposal?
Suppose the spill is more than the quantity in a mercury temperature thermometer or thermostat. If it is widely dispersed, or if the spill is on carpeting that cannot be thrown out, furniture pieces, or other porous materials that cannot be bagged, you should contact a skilled specialist immediately. Look in your phone book for “Hazardous Waste,” “Engineering Services,” or “Environmental Engineers.”
If you have any questions, please contact your local health department or one of the organizations indicated after this fact sheet.
How Long Does It Take for Mercury to Evaporate?
Unlike other liquids, mercury fumes are odorless and colorless. Due to this, detection without specialist equipment is challenging. It can take up to 384 days for a pea-sized drop of undiscovered mercury to completely evaporate. It can seriously harm the nervous system during that period, especially in newborns and young children.