Is it safe to handle liquid mercury?

In highschool chemistry class we smeared mercury over dimes with our fingers, to show how it created a super-thin film. Lots of fun.

But were we exposing ourselves to danger?

Yep, probably. It will go through skin, IIRC.

My husband remembers playing with in little balls, rolling it between his hands.

There was a very similar post last month, though with a bit more alarmist tone.

Mercury question- am I a dead man?

The danger at that level of exposure is very low.

When I was in school, folks used to think it was funny to slip mercury into your beer-- Because it goes straight through you, and nobody’s sphincter is tight enough to keep it from ending up in your shorts in a matter of minutes. “Wait a minute-- Did I just?”

Of course, this a stupid thing to do, but nobody became ill from it, as far as I know. I suspect that prolonged or repeated exposure is more worrisome.

Here is an informative link about mercury toxicity and safe handling.

:eek: You ingested it? Yipe! The only time I got close to it was when we spilled some during science class in grade seven, and had to chase down the little blobs all over the floor.

We use mercury at work, maybe two pounds per certain type of machine (this is about 20 liquid oz or so). If we spill a little bit, we evacuate and cordon that particular area (and lose production time). Then we call a HAZMAT company to clean up the mess – they look like the evil doctor people in E.T. with their getups. THEN, plant environmental comes with a sniffer to determine the amount of mercury vapor in the air. It usually takes three hours or so for the sniffer to do its job. All-in-all, a spill is a big pain in the butt. When I spill mercury, I clean it up (I don’t have the opportunity to let it get into hard-to-reach nooks and crannies, so don’t be alarmed) and we continue running the business. I figure I don’t eat Great Lakes fish, so I have a while before the toxicity builds up in my system!

Larry Mudd said

Larry, I have never had a biology course and my knowledge of the human body’s workings is poor. But, why would mercury go "straight through you…ending up in your shorts in a matter of minutes? Did this happen to you personally? How many minutes?

The reason spills are so dangerous, even if it doesn’t get on the skin, is that mercury evaporates very very easily and the vapor is also very toxic at low doses. We did the math in a chemisty class once, during the safety lecture, and figured out that one broken thermometer could endanger the whole lab in a matter of minutes.

Also, this is anecdotal from a chem professor, but I heard that they used to use mercury boluses to clear serious intestinal blockages. They’d strap you down to a swiveling table, you’d swallow a fair amount of mercury, and they’d rotate you around so that it would go through your guts and out the other end, clearing anything in its way. It’s easy to see why we don’t do THAT anymore.

DE - We love the chemicals in our water!

I’m not much at biology either, but I’m sure the intestines are up-and-down, not just side-to-side. Mercury would not travel up by itself, but would have to wait for the regular processes to push it.

A bunch of teenagers somewhere in East Texas, OK, or AK. Found several drums of mercury in an abandoned building. They played in it. Brought some to show their friends. Dipped cigerattes and joints and smoked them. They are fucked. Physically and mentally.

The drums today are in storage where a friend of mine works. Along with L.A. Gear (Remember?) flashing lites that used mercury. You cant economically change it to anything else. You just have to store it.

Yes, that makes perfect sense.

I regret to say that the only personal experience I have of this is as the duped person. (Actually, on second thought, I don’t regret it.) I’m not very clear on how long it took, because A) it was between 12 and 13 years ago, B) I was very drunk at the time, C) the discussion that followed was not a civil one. It was along the lines of “You put poison in my beer?” “Relax, it goes right through you.” Much laughter. Much more grinding of teeth. The perps were systematically doing it to just about everyone in our social circle, (or so I was led to believe,) and thought it was hysterically funny. My hair and teeth didn’t fall out, and, although I was pretty freaked out about it, I didn’t purge or anything like that.

Looking around on the net, most sources say that mercury is mainly excreted w/ the feces… Which was not how it seemed to me at all. Most of the sites are talking about mercury salts and organic mercury though, not metallic mercury, so I don’t know.

That being said… I never did …see… the stuff. Felt something in the shorts, got up & went to can to confirm all was well. Came back, the guys were yucking it up. Is it possible that they did something else and told me it was mercury? This seems almost as irresponsible as actually feeding someone mercury… But then, we are talking about engineering students, so responsibility isn’t exactly prime.

Also, looking into suggests that high exposures of it can cause it to accumulate in your skeleton for years.

Now I’m starting to sweat.

That was in Texarkana, IIRC.

I believe the phrase “mad as a hatter” refers to mercury poisoning, back when it was used in hat production.

Larry You said

Well, that explains it, then. :smiley:

Don’t sweat it. Even if they did a one-shot deal in your beer and you passed it, you can still have kids and grow up to be an asshole like the rest of us.

Thanks for the reply. It is frustrating when people post anechdotal things as if they are scientific evidence. A casual reader assumed that mercury, taken internally, rips right through the digestive system and is deposited in ones knickers in minutes. You have confirmed that this is not true.

Now, I’m off to throttle Road Rash for that Mad Hatter comment. Remember, I said we won’t start the resumption of that thread until After Labor Day.*

*Hey, Road Rash, they used Mercuric Nitrate, not elemental mercury.

Ski the Soo - sue the school
(I don’t know if you have a case, but it makes a good tounge twister)

Well, the USDA research labs take mercury spills seriously. When I was an undergraduate I broke a mercury thermometer–I’m talking drops that were equilivalent in size to a to a few BB pellets–and the HazMat people asked if they could shut the lab down for a few days.

Well, no, you can’t shut the lab down and in the end some guy came out and wiped the beads up. It took maybe 15 minutes.

So it didn’t turn out to be that big of a deal, but the fact that the protocol called for evacuation and all that shows that the USDA (on paper at least) seems to think this is a serious hazard. In an academic lab, I bet it would have been wiped up and thrown in the trash without anybody being notified.

I manage an academic lab and knowing how people are, one of the first things I did was to buy alcohol thermometers to replace the mercury ones (we don’t need mercury) because the idiots I work with probably would throw mercury in the trash and not fess up. I’ve found broken alcohol thermometers in the trash on several occasions.

What’s worse is that they don’t even put their trash out so it can be emptied, so it would remain in the room for several days. They’re idiots because (along with other things) I had to tell them that the broken glass disposal box isn’t for paper or plastic trash. (They put paper and plastic in the glass disposal box and glass in the trash!) At least this thread reminds me that I now I need to keep an eye on the broken glass containers to make sure no mercury thermometers end up there.

Take the mercury thermometers away and it’s like forbidding the golden apple–even with the HazMat training they all sleep through, they’re going to try to use them because it’s “better”. The mercury thermometers are stored in a drawer that I think I now have to move because reading this thread, because if I don’t I know I will someday find mercury in the broken glass disposal and not know how long it’s been there.

Hmmm…I hope it doesn’t kill me prematurely. Let’s see, I vividly remember being about 12 years old, in an abandoned house rummaging around. There’s an A/C thermostat on the wall, I pull off the cover, remove the mercury switch and break it onto some paper. Pour the mercury into my hand and roll it around, the bubbles/beads get smaller and smaller and smaller. Well, I’m 29 now, no side effects… except that it made me gay.

You know, there’s a support group for folks that that happened to. :wink: