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Mercury in the Home

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What is mercury?
Where is mercury found?
How might I be exposed to mercury?
How can mercury affect my health?
How can families reduce the risk of exposure to mercury?
What should I do if there is a mercury spill?
How can I properly dispose of products containing mercury?
Who should I call for more information?

What is mercury?

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal that has several forms. Metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white, odorless liquid. If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas. It is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature. When spilled, mercury often fragments into small beads that can bounce and roll away from the location of the initial spill. This is one reason why elemental mercury is difficult to control once it is spilled.

Where is mercury found?

Mercury is commonly found in thermometers, manometers, vacuum pumps, switches, and dental amalgams. Mercury salts are used in skin-lightening creams and as antiseptic creams and ointments Because of its frequent use, it is not unusual for mercury to be spilled, or otherwise contaminate homes, laboratory, storage, or office areas.

How might I be exposed to mercury?

A broken thermometer is the most common household exposure to mercury. Additional sources of mercury in the home can come from mercury light switches, thermostats, barometers, and old blood pressure machines.

How can mercury affect my health?

Typically, mercury spills will not result in adverse health conditions if managed with care. However, short-term exposure to high levels of mercury vapors may cause effects including lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increases in blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes, and eye irritation.

How can families reduce the risk of exposure to mercury?

Carefully handle and dispose of products that contain mercury, such as thermometers or fluorescent light bulbs. Do not vacuum up spilled mercury, because it will vaporize and increase exposure. Mercury free thermometers are available that are filled with non-toxic materials. Electronic or mechanical thermometers or manometers can be used in place of mercury filled devices. Always store mercury in unbreakable containers with closed lids located in a well-ventilated area.

What should I do if there is a mercury spill?

Generally, mercury spills in the home can be safely managed. When a spill occurs, isolate the area to prevent people from entering the spill area and spreading the contamination. Mercury should never be swept with a broom or vacuumed with an ordinary vacuum cleaner. These procedures will disperse mercury droplets, increase the airborne level of mercury vapor and contaminate the equipment used. If you have a mercury spill, you can contact the Department of Environmental Health Hazardous Materials "Complaints" at (858) 505-6657 for assistance in cleanup.

How can I properly dispose of products containing mercury?

You may take mercury-containing thermometers, switches or fluorescent tubes to a Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility in your area.

Who should I call for more information?

The California Regional Poison Center can be contacted for more information regarding possible health effects from exposure to mercury. They can be reached at 1-800-876-4766.