I Chronicles 29:11 "Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty:for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Hidden Dangers: Mercury Thermometers

This is not meant to be a scary post to make all of you freak out about your mercury thermometers. To use, they are absolutely safe.

The problems start when one gets broken.

See, when I was crazy sick with the Killer Flu From Outer Space, I stayed home from Sunday service. And as the Prince was working hard to get all the girls ready to head out the door in something other than their pajamas, I wanted to check my temperature. Because I was stinkin' hot. And I wanted to check it in the bathroom. (Because I multi-task like that, even when sick.)

So I went to do what one does in the bathroom, and as I was turning around, the thermometer slipped out of my hand and crashed on the tile floor. There was an immediate puddle of silver liquid, and broken glass all over. ('All over' is a relative term because thermometers are smallish. But remember I had a fever so my reasoning memories are a bit skewed if you will.)

I was too sick to bend over (because I would have fallen down), and told the Prince there was a spill. So he grabbed some toilet paper (and sighed heavily I'm sure- I just don't remember) and proceeded to wipe at it, but didn't really make much progress. (Which I didn't know at the time, or I might have made him do it better.)

So they all left, and I had to use the bathroom again. I carefully (in my 103F state) made my way to the toilet area, and saw the schmear of metallic stuff on the floor. I was immediately concerned, because I have read articles on mercury poisoning (because we've broken thermometers before) and hurried to the computer to look up the best way to clean up a spill from a thermometer. I came across this website from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. They have the following advice:

"Mercury spills can be very hazardous to human health and the environment if not cleaned up as soon as possible. Elemental mercury vaporizes slowly over time and can expose your family to toxic fumes for a very long time if not thoroughly cleaned up.

Applies to all Mercury Spills

1. If a mercury fever thermometer gets broken in your home, keep your children, pets and other persons out of the room where the spill occurred.

2. The affected room should be isolated from other rooms in the house by closing connecting doors.

3. Turn off the heat and any circulation systems in the house and open all windows in the affected room to ventilate it to the outdoors.

4. Never use a household vacuum cleaner (even one with a HEPA filter), broom or any type of towel to try to wipe or blot up the spill since it will only scatter and spread the mercury.

5. Never use household cleaning products to clean the spill, particularly products that contain ammonia or chlorine. These chemicals will react violently with mercury, releasing a toxic gas.

6. Remove all jewelry before beginning cleanup as the mercury will bind to gold and silver.

7. Prior to cleaning up the spill, put on old clothes or disposable coveralls, old shoes or disposable booties, and disposable rubber, latex or nitrile gloves. These items may need to be disposed of after you have completed cleanup of the spill. Place clean clothes, shoes and a trash bag just outside the room where the mercury spill occurred.

8. After cleaning up the spill, carefully remove your gloves by grasping them at the wrist and pulling them off inside-out. Place the gloves in the trash bag for disposal.

9. If you were wearing disposable coveralls and booties, carefully remove these items and place them in the trash bag for disposal.

10. Any clothing or shoes that came in direct contact with the mercury should be placed in the trash bag. Clothing and shoes that did not come into direct contact with the mercury should be placed outdoors to air out. Once thoroughly aired out, they can be laundered as normal.

11. The tools used to clean up the spill (index cards, tape, eyedropper) should also be placed in the trash bag and the trash bag double wrapped in another trash bag.

12. See the disposal section for information on how to handle the collected mercury and cleanup materials.

13. Once the cleanup is completed, you may turn the heat or circulation systems back on, but keep the door to this room closed and the window open for at least a few hours, 24 - 48 hours would be best.

So after reading this, I looked again at the schmear in my bathroom and freaked. I didn't want my family subjected to mercury poisoning, and it was on the side of our scale, (which I promptly threw out- not out of spite though) and was smeared into the tile and the cracks between. I went into the kitchen (remember I have a MAJOR fever at this point) and got a new sponge with a scrubby side on it and went to face all the poison.

I wasn't really very careful about not letting my clothes touch it, because I had a fever and wasn't thinking straight. Did I mention that part? I scrubbed the best I could, bagged up the scale, the sponge, the paper towels, and anything else that might have been contaminated, and promptly threw it outside in the dust bin. (Which I know you're not supposed to do, but SA doesn't have any special "contamination" pick ups.)

Then I vented the bathroom by opening the window as far as it would go, shut the door, stuffed a towel at its base, and fell into bed. I slept.

And slept.

And worried.

And dreamed about all the vapors that were probably seeping into my house, and affecting the neighbors, and how the things I put in the garbage were going to someday affect my drinking water (like in the movie 'Sahara') and I would get poisoned from my own carelessness.

And then the Prince came home, checked the other thermometer we owned by the same company, and pronounced it 'Mercury Free'.

And I collapsed again.

But, this was a good heads-up for me, and I think for all of us. Many states have outlawed the sale of mercury thermometers, so chances are you don't have one. But, there is still a chance. There are mercury free options in thermometers out there, (Wal-Mart, many pharmacies, and other stores carry them.) and it's worth it to keep our families safe. Mercury poisoning is not fun. It cause no shortage of problems.

If you have a mercury thermometer and want to get rid of it, don't throw it out in the trash. Wait until your neighborhood has a household hazardous waste collection, or talk with someone in the city sanitation department to find out what to do with it.

We've made the move to be mercury free, and you can too. It's a whole lot easier than finding an ET scientist outfit to clean up the spill if one breaks. Trust me.

Although it might be fun to freak out the neighbors...


  • impromptu-mom

    Scary Stuff.

    Also remember that this sort of situation also applies to compact fluorescent light bulbs. They emit mercury vapor when broken. I found this out the hard way when we were renovating the new house. LOL.

  • Great-Granny Grandma

    Oh my word. What a scary experience. I knew mercury was dangerous, but had no idea that the small amount that would be in a thermometer could be such a big deal to clean up.

    BTW, if the thermometer was mercury free, what were those little blobs that looked like mecury?
    Once you found out it wasn't mercury, did you go retrieve your scale?

  • Nomad

    "Although it might be fun to freak out the neighbors."

    Hahaha! I laughed OUT LOUD! :-)

    We're missionaries in Zambia, so I can relate to a lot of your posts. :-)


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