There are many chemicals that are used, tested, and sometimes even spilled in a day. If you do not work in a lab or in an environment where different chemicals are present that you may not consider the potential risks these chemicals can place on a group of people or even an area if they are mishandled or spilled accidentally. Every chemical has different risks and dangers – some more significant than others, and thus being prepared in the event that a dangerous chemical is released into the environment is a necessity for overall protection. Who do we turn to when chemicals are accidentally or purposefully released into the environment, and worse when a hazardous chemical like Mercury is the released chemical?
Mercury is a shiny, silvery liquid chemical that can cause some serious health problems. When liquid mercury vaporizes at room temperature it will cause an elevation of mercury levels in your indoor air. This chemical is quite hazardous when it becomes a vapor, as it is not irritating, and it has no odor, so people are not even aware that they are breathing it in their body. Even the smallest trace amount of mercury present in the environment can cause harm.
What is Mercury Used for
The chemical mercury is present in more things than you may have known. It can be used to make thermometers, barometers, and other scientific instruments like blood pressure units and gas pressure regulators. One of the main industrial uses for mercury is in fluorescent lights, where a mercury vapor discharge produces ultraviolet light that then makes the tube coating fluorescent in visible lighting. Mercury is used in very small amounts with a pound of mercury being smaller than a golf ball.
Another popular use for mercury today is in dental fillings. All silver-colored fillings are dental amalgam fillings, and each of these fillings is approximately 50% mercury. Although there are many countries that have banned or limited the use of these fillings, there are many countries still using mercury fillings including the USA.
Is Mercury Dangerous
Mercury can potentially be a very dangerous chemical, especially when human exposure occurs. The liquid form of mercury is highly hazardous because as it vaporizes at room temperature the air will become filled with tiny, invisible mercury atoms that are both scentless and soluble in fats and oils.
When mercury vapor is inhaled into the body, it will easily become absorbed by the body, where it will first get into the lungs and then travel into the blood and brain. The poison released from this nerve chemical can cause sleep disorders, agitation, and paralysis. And scary enough, high dosage of exposure to this chemical can result in a neurological disorder called erethism mercurialis. According to Thomas Gebel, a toxicologist at Germany’s Federal Institute for Occupational Health and Safety in Dortmun, “There are historically documented cases that describe how people’s handwriting changed after being exposed to high levels of mercury”.
When or if mercury spills inside an area you will want to be sure that the cleanup process is left to a professional or HAZMAT team to properly clean and decontaminate the chemical from the environment. There are several different steps you should take to clean up after a mercury spill. These steps include the following:
Step 1: Isolate and Ventilate
The first thing you will want to do is to close doors and block off the contaminated area from human exposure. Avoid walking through this area – the less time you spend within the area the less exposure you will have to this hazardous chemical. It’s also important to turn off your HVAC system after a spill occurs. Once the spill takes place it will vaporize into the air and if your air handling system is running it can spread this vapor throughout the whole environment, which is very dangerous. If you find that the mercury vapors are traveling quickly throughout the area you may decide to open windows to help ventilate the affected area.
Step 2: Be Ready to Respond
You never know when exactly mercury will become present in your environment but preparing for this potential situation can be extremely beneficial. To prepare you may consider using an air monitoring equipment to help to detect the presence of mercury fumes. Having safety supplies on hand like gloves, goggles, and other appropriate clothing during a mercury response is also crucial to protecting yourself from mercury exposure.
Step 3: Cleanup Process
There are several important cleaning tips to be aware of before performing a mercury cleanup. Firstly, do not use a regular vacuum to remove the mercury – this will result in the spreading of the chemical throughout the environment. Use a vacuum rated for mercury only, during a response and cleanup process. Also, be on high alert for small droplets of mercury that could have ended up on the surface of the spill.
The process of containing and neutralizing the chemical spill is important, especially ensuring that all traces of the chemical are completely removed from the area. Applying a decontamination solution like FAST-ACT will help to contain the presence of mercury in the area. FAST-ACT is a chemical decontamination solution that is both rapidly effective and easy to use to contain a chemical spill or release. The technology is composed of a patented earth mineral formula that is highly reactive against a broad spectrum of chemical agents including CWAs (Chemical Warfare Agents). FAST-ACT can be applied to both liquid and vapor releases – and will help to absorb the mercury chemical from the environment.
Step 4: Contain the Chemical Release
After the mercury release occurs, it is important to remove any contaminated clothing from your body. Place clothing, shoes, and any other items that were tainted by the mercury in a marked and sealed bag.
Step 5: Decontaminate Skin
If your skin came into contact with the mercury you will want to use warm water and anti-dandruff shampoo to remove the chemical from your skin. Anti-dandruff shampoo contains at least 1 percent selenium sulfide which helps to decontaminate mercury.