General Information on Mercury Spills

Introduction

This information is offered to help you respond to mercury spills. Most spills associated with fever thermometers or other small spills can be cleaned up by following the guidance provided here. While the amount of mercury involved with broken thermometers is usually very small, it can be enough to in some cases, to produce unhealthy exposure to mercury vapor. Quick response to any mercury spill is very important. If you have a large spill (more than 2 tablespoons or 1 fluid ounce), or are not sure about the hazards or your ability to respond, please contact your local public health unit or the North Dakota Department of Health.

About Mercury

Elemental mercury is a heavy, silvery metal element that is a liquid at room temperature. Liquid mercury evaporates at room temperature and these vapors are invisible, odorless, and, at high levels, are very toxic. Mercury vapors can harm the nervous system, cardiovascular system, digestive tract, kidneys, and the development of young children. In the home, metallic mercury is often found in thermometers, barometers, electrical switches, and thermostats. Upon spilling, it will bead up and spread readily. The amount of vapor elemental mercury produces is related to the amount spilled, surface area (amount of beads produced), temperature (vapor increases with warmer air), air flow and physical disturbance of the spilled material.

Cautions

You should respond immediately to all mercury spills. Even small spills can, in some cases, cause high levels of mercury vapors that are unsafe to breathe. Mercury vapors are readily absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream and are therefore, particularly hazardous. Mercury vapors are also heavier than air and may linger in higher concentrations close to the floor. Children who crawl or play in these areas are at highest risk of breathing these vapors.

Note: Everything used during the cleanup procedure should be managed as mercury-contaminated unless you are positive it has not come into contact with mercury.

for additional information contact your local public health unit or questions may be addressed to the North Dakota Department of Health at 701.328.5188, or email Justin Otto.