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Author Topic: Mercury Spill Advice  (Read 5059 times)

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Oversphere

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Mercury Spill Advice
« on: July 25, 2011, 12:21:57 AM »

Greetings fellow nerds.   ;D  I need advice from some smart people, and I think this forum might be the place to find it.  I hope it's ok for my first post to be a new topic.  

Chemistry isn't one of my specialties, though sometimes it is related to my specialties.  My year of high school chemistry and two semesters of college chemistry are just not enough education for me to make an informed decision on my situation.  So without further adieu, here's my situation:

My grandfather was a maintenance man at a knitting mill back in the 1950's and 1960's.  He occasionally had to replace the dye vat temperature gauges, and he liked to save the mercury.  He collected about 1 cup of Hg, and he put it in a half-quart mason jar.  He passed away about a year ago, and the jar of mercury is still sitting high on a shelf in the living room.  The lid is now badly corroded.  

Over the years, various kids including myself would pour out small amounts of the stuff onto the floor and play with it.  It was hard to get it off the floor and back into the jar.  I know that some of it went down between the hardwood floorboards.  We once saw a couple of drops that had made it through the upper floor and onto the concrete basement floor.  The jar o' mercury hasn't been touched in probably twenty-five years.  My grandmother still lives in the house.  She just turned 90.  Based on stories I've heard, she has been borderline schizophrenic all her life, even before the mercury exposure.  I'm not sure if the mercury has contributed.  There hasn't been any other mental illness on that side of the family, and no serious health problems that are likely Hg related.

My grandmother could live another 10 years easily.  She is doing very well for her age.  At some point, though, my family will have to decide what to do with that house.  Is the place fit for human habitation?  Is there a way to test and find out?  Can it be cleaned up?  What would you guys do?
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408

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #1 on: July 25, 2011, 02:10:35 AM »



If I bought a house and found out someone had done what yours has had done, you would be having a lawsuit coming your way.
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Oversphere

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #2 on: July 25, 2011, 02:41:54 AM »



If I bought a house and found out someone had done what yours has had done, you would be having a lawsuit coming your way.


We're not going to sell the place.  More than likely, some other family members will move into it someday.  I just want to find out if it's safe, or how to make it safe.
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Eudoxus

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #3 on: July 25, 2011, 08:11:26 AM »

Contact your local health department and ask for their advice. When they hear you have a whole mason jar of mercury and have spilled lots of it over the years, they'll probably send out an inspector to verify that the house is still liveable. It probably will be, since it sounds like you've only spilled a few mL over several years; but if it's bad enough they may have to send a hazmat team, and some of your flooring may have to be replaced. But it doesn't sound like it's bad enough to necessitate that. They may also ask you to give up the jar of mercury, as it is a hazardous material. It isn't illegal to own, but there are probably regulations on how to store it. I mean, imagine if someone dropped the jar and all the mercury spilled. It's probably best to have the authorities dispose of it.
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enahs

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2011, 08:16:32 AM »

For clean up, it is not going to be easy given the conditions.

Basically, you want to get some sulfur and spread it over the area, and then wipe it up with a damp paper towel or rag.

But, it is going to be hard to get to this area. If little children are going to be living in the house; with their natural inclination to put their mouth on things; replacing the hardwood floor and cleaning under it with the sulfur a couple of times might be the safest way to go.


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vmelkon

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #5 on: July 26, 2011, 04:06:30 AM »

Dear lord!

As was said already, you can dump some sulfur powder and then rub for a while. You'll end up with HgS (same as the cinnabar rock).
If it were me, I wouldn't trust that house anymore. Get some experts and remove all the floors.
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408

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #6 on: July 26, 2011, 08:33:56 AM »

torch it and collect the insurance.
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Oversphere

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #7 on: July 26, 2011, 08:43:13 AM »

Thanks for the replies, folks.  

With a bit of googling, I found a site which says that Hg evaporates at about .5g per year at room temperature:http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=372824  Does that seem right?  I'm sure it varies somewhat depending on the surface area.

It's not like anybody poured a bunch of mercury onto the floor and watched it flow into the cracks.  I was about six or seven years old the last time anybody messed with the stuff.  There were a few very tiny drops that we couldn't sweep onto the sheet of paper, and they went between the floorboards.  I doubt that 1 cm^3 has been spilled.  

As far as contacting the health department or having the floors torn out, those options are potentially very expensive and probably unnecessary.  My family isn't exactly loaded, and it's a pretty good house.  Here's the plan of action that I'm considering:  Next time I visit the area, I'll haul off the mercury myself to the county's hazardous materials site.  I'll check with them first, but I think they'll take it.  Then I'll wait a few years.  After giving the vapor some time to dissipate, I'll get an Hg vapor test kit.  I saw them for sale on some website a while back.  I'll test the contaminated area upstairs and directly below it in the basement.

Now I know that my plan outlined above might not be "right" or "legal" in some peoples' opinions.  I'm mostly interested in whether or not you think my plan will work.  Any suggestions to improve my plan?
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enahs

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #8 on: July 26, 2011, 08:58:51 AM »

I personally think most people are overly paranoid about Hg anyway.
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Oversphere

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #9 on: July 26, 2011, 09:06:17 AM »

Where and how does one buy sulfur powder?  Does it stink by itself, or does that only happen when it's dissolved in water?  I suppose I could sweep it around on both contaminated floors.  That might help if any of my future relatives lick the floor.  I wouldn't put it past them.
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hobobot

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #10 on: July 26, 2011, 03:18:40 PM »

I personally think most people are overly paranoid about Hg anyway.


This.


Hg is mostly harmless unless it is a part of an organic compound.  Like methyl mercury in fish.
You should only be concerned about elemental Hg if you've been exposed to a boiling vat of it for 10 years.
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vmelkon

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #11 on: July 27, 2011, 02:16:09 AM »

Where and how does one buy sulfur powder?  Does it stink by itself, or does that only happen when it's dissolved in water?  I suppose I could sweep it around on both contaminated floors.  That might help if any of my future relatives lick the floor.  I wouldn't put it past them.

Pharmacies used to sell it in Canada. It has disappeared.

In the USA, check you pharmacies, Walmart, flower shop, ebay.
It slightly smells because it slowly oxidizes because of oxygen and you smell the SO2. You have to put your nose right next to it to smell it. If you have some on your floor, it is not a problem. Also, you just need 500 g or less and you just rub it on the mercury and reuse the same stuff all over your floor.
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Eudoxus

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #12 on: July 28, 2011, 06:36:54 PM »

If I found out I was living in a house where a previous owner had spilled an indeterminate amount of mercury, and attempted to hide that fact, I would sue. You don't know how much you've spilled, and it may be much less, or much more than you suspect. It's true, elemental Hg is not acutely toxic, however it is a cumulative poison, which means it builds up in your system over time.


I would at the very least look into how to properly dispose of your mercury, as you don't seem to be the type to experiment with it safely. I would rather get rid of the hazard, than risk it accidentally spilling, or the jar breaking. Also, elemental sulfur will react with mercury to make cinnabar, however a percentage decomposes back to elemental forms in warm temperatures so it isn't a be-all, end-all solution. Even if you don't tell the local health services about the spills, they'll still have advice on what to do with the bulk of the metal.
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408

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Re: Mercury Spill Advice
« Reply #13 on: July 28, 2011, 07:58:59 PM »

I personally think most people are overly paranoid about Hg anyway.


Yes, but this situation is exactly the way it is dangerous.  Handling it in a well ventilated area for a short time, no problem.  Inhaling small amounts on a daily basis: bad.
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