Mercury is commonly used in the home in some over-the-counter thermometers, thermostats, and in fluorescent light bulbs. The question often arises, "If there is an accidental spill of mercury in my home, how do I dispose it?" There are safe practices that can be utilized while handling and disposing of small amounts (less than I teaspoon) of liquid mercury. Larger amounts require professional assistance. Do not hesitate to call for assistance in handling liquid mercury spills. Large spills or spills of mercury compounds can be life threatening and should be handled by professionals.
Mercury is the only common metal that is liquid at room temperature. It appears to be liquid silver. It will roll around like beads of silvery white water.
Warning: Mercury is a virulent poison. Short-term or long-term exposures to mercury can lead to serious health problems, including death. Human exposure to mercury occurs primarily from breathing contaminated air. Mercury is also readily absorbed though the gastrointestinal tract and through the skin. Even though symptoms do not appear, serious damage can be done to the human body. Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up a mercury spill. Children and pregnant women should not be exposed to mercury. In the case of a large spill, all occupants should evacuate the area.
Handling. If mercury escapes into the environment, evacuate children and pregnant women. Remove all jewelry, especially gold. Handle the mercury carefully. Wear rubber gloves and scoop it onto a sheet of paper or suck it up with an eyedropper. Place the mercury in a medicine vial or similar airtight container. The scoop, paper or eyedropper should also be bagged and disposed properly according to guidance provided by environmental officials or your local health department. Ventilate the room to the outside and close off the rest of the home. Use fans for a minimum of one hour to speed the ventilation. Do not simply throw the mercury away. Seek professional guidance from local recycling, solid waste or hazardous waste agencies. Large retailers and building centers may accept glass-encapsulated mercury, as in thermostats, for recycling.
Keep any objects containing mercury out of the reach of children. Children found to be playing with liquid mercury or broken fluorescent lamps should be referred to a physician or poison control center immediately. Mercury contaminated gold jewelry must be taken to a jeweler to have them professionally cleaned. While handling mercury, or any other hazardous substance, one should always wear protective gloves. If mercury contacts with the skin, wash the area(s) thoroughly and immediately with soap and warm water. If you believe that you have absorbed mercury though your skin or inhaled mercury vapors, you should contact your physician or poison control center immediately.
For additional information, contact the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality at 1-800-305-6621.