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Author: Subject: Mercury -Toxicity
chemkid
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Mercury -Toxicity

I have part of a mercury thrermometer sealed within to plastic bags and a plastic tuberware. Would it be hazardous to remove the plastic bag contained in the tuberware? Just how dangerous is mercury? Am i going to open this plastic bag and a get a burst of mercury vapor that is going to increase my risk of cancer by 25% or something like that?

Chemkid

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Mercury as the metal is quite noble and as such not very toxic, the vapours and salts suck though so if you do decide to open the bag and you're scared you should do it in a fumehood or outside. Never use a vacuumcleaner to suck up liquid mercury, that will disperse it as fine droplets which can'tbe good for you.

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joeflsts
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 Quote: Originally posted by chemkid I have part of a mercury thrermometer sealed within to plastic bags and a plastic tuberware. Would it be hazardous to remove the plastic bag contained in the tuberware? Just how dangerous is mercury? Am i going to open this plastic bag and a get a burst of mercury vapor that is going to increase my risk of cancer by 25% or something like that? Chemkid

When I was a young child I had some mercury that I scavenged from a thermometer. I played with it for quite some time. Today, approximately 30 years later I seem to be okay except for my third arm and tendency to shit my pants whenever I hit start on the microwave.

Just kidding. It is dangerous and you should be careful with your exposure to it.

Joe
not_important
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Plastics bags aren't the best backup container in this case. If you're really worried, store the container of mercury inside a larger container that has some sulfur or zinc in it. When working with mercury, do so over/in a fairly deep plastic tray, to catch any spill.

Cancer isn't the big concern with mercury, nerve damage is. The vapour and compounds are the real concerns, the vapour because it gets inhaled and diffuses into the body.
The_Davster
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Keeping it in glass is also a no-no. I have several mLs in a plastic bottle with a very tight cap. This bottle is sealed in a sandwich baggie, and this baggie is then in another larger bag with plenty of sulfur.

This is kept in a metal ammo can with other toxic compounds outside, and out of the weather.

Only a handful of chems I do not keep indoors, and this is one.

woelen

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My main concern with metallic mercury is the risk of spills inside. I'm really afraid of spills inside the house. If you spill a drop on the floor or workbench, it will break apart in a zillion smaller droplets, which are sprayed around and will go in every crack and hole of the floor, walls, etc. It will be very hard to remove these spills and they slowly will evaporate, giving Hg-vapor, which may be slowly poisoning you.

Hg has the property that it VERY easily spills, it is very mobile and heavy and it is really easy to spill a drop. For this reason I'm more afraid of the metal, than of its salts, while the latter are much more toxic. But a spill of some e.g. HgCl2 can easily be removed, while a spill of a drop of Hg may ruin your life-environment in the long run.

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chemkid
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So it would probably be best if i take out the two plastic bags and fill the plastic container with sulfur (just got a big bag) and replace the bag. I am not planing on handling any. Lab surpervisors (parents) will not aprove at all and i am working over cracked concrete that would be ruined for the rest of time if I spilled Hg on it (sdaly the enitre basement isn't alll mine for chemistry. However maybe outside.

Also in the container is a broken thermometer containing a red liquid. Is that mercury as well or just alchool? It was labeled toxic waste by my grandfather.

Chemkid

sparkgap
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"...a broken thermometer containing a red liquid. Is that mercury as well or just alcohol?"

That would be alcohol. Your grandpa methinks was just trying to be on the safe side.

sparky (~_~)

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YT2095
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 Quote: Originally posted by The_Davster Keeping it in glass is also a no-no.

if you dont me asking, Why is it a bad thing to do?

I store mine in a thick glass (narrow necked) bottle with a very tight sealed screw top, that is then inside a large plastic sealed "Tub" with a sulpher powder in the bottom.

Ive never had a problem with it in glass in all the years Ive had it.
so Im a little curious now

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The_Davster
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I just dont like the idea of keeping something that dense and heavy in a glass bottle which can break. I'd hate to break something with a large ammount of Hg in it, if there was no secondary containment the spill could be dangerous.
I am sure for small ammounts it is fine, but when it starts getting heavy, I'd use plastic.

YT2095
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aha, yeah, Im with you now

I only have about 30g of it in a small glass bottle the sort they sell essential oils in for oil burners and room fresheners, its quite tough.

I was half wondering if it was some sort of reaction thing I knew nothing about and that maybe thermometers used a special glass.

Cheerz

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not_important
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Spillage is why you work in a plastic pan, one with reasonably tall walls. Besides, mercury is hard enough to come by, why lose any?
YT2095
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I take mine out rarely, but when I do I use a Syringe and plastic cannula instead of the metal needles.
thats also stored in the plastic "tub" with the sulpher.

edit: if its of any use to anyone the cannula is a modified WD-40 tube.

[Edited on 22-6-2007 by YT2095]

\"In a world full of wonders mankind has managed to invent boredom\" - Death
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Jdurg
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With elemental mercury there are just a few small rules to follow in order to stay somewhat "safe";

1): NEVER work with Hg in a room with a wooden floor. The Hg, if it spills, will seep into the crack in the wood and between the wooden planks and slowly leach out into the atmosphere.

2): NEVER work with Hg in a room with an "UNSEALED" concrete floor. If the concrete floor has not been sealed then it is highly likely to absorb the mercury like a paper towel absorbs water. Over time, it will evaporate out. If your concrete floor is sealed, then as long as you act quickly it won't absorb into the concrete and you won't need to worry. The best surface to work with mercury over is a tiled floor with sealed grout lines. This will prevent absorption of mercury and make spills less dangerous.

3): Always have a mixture of finely powdered zinc and sulfur around. If Hg spills, you can sprinkle this fine powder over the area and it will react with the Hg and chemically bind it. The Zn will for an alloy with it and greatly lower it's vapour pressure, and the S will chemically bind the Hg forming HgS.

4): Always store your Hg's primary container inside another container so that if the primary container fails there will be something to hold onto the mercury.

5): Work in a well ventilated area so that Hg vapor doesn't concentrate in one area. Granted, the vapour pressure of Hg isn't insanely high like that of H2O or alcohols, but it is higher than most metals. (Duh! Because most metals are solids. )

6): NEVER clean up Hg spills with a vacuum cleaner. Clean up as much as you can with a pipette and then cover the spill area with the zinc/sulfur powder mix in order to bind any loose Hg.

As long as you follow those guidelines above, you really aren't going to have many problems with Hg. Certainly not as many as most would like you to believe. Again, it's a matter of knowing what you're working with and how to handle it.

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Drone
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It is probably worth mentioning that powered Zinc and Sulphur can react pretty violently. Finely powdered it can act as a flash and it also makes quite a good rocket fuel.

It is probably worth thinking about this carefully before you use a Zn/S mix to 'mop up' Hg spills.
Jdurg
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You'd have to have VERY finely powdered sulfur and zinc, in which case either of them would be pyrophoric on their own. Simple powders of zinc and sulfur aren't going to ignite unless you want them to.

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chemkid
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"That would be alcohol. Your grandpa methinks was just trying to be on the safe side."

Sounds just like him.

So taking this mercury thermometer (about the size of my pinky) out of the plastic bags/boxes it has been stored in probably for years over a large spill proof container, outdoors (over stones or grass?) and transfering it into a vial which would be placed with in another larger container full of sulfur would be a safe procedure?

Chemkid

[Edited on 23-6-2007 by chemkid]

Jdurg
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Yup.

\"A real fart is beefy, has a density greater than or equal to the air surrounding it, consists of the unmistakable scent of broccoli, and usually requires wiping afterwards.\"
not_important
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Better to do it over/in a plastic basin. That way if you spill you can recover the mercury, instead of leaving it to diffuse into the food chain and water supply.

On the other hand, Uncle Tungsten has a snippet in which is mentioned the gas trough filled with mercury, in which students would stick their hands while using it. Somehow many of those students grew up not too abnormal and nerve damaged, Oliver Sacks being one such.
DerAlte
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Let us not succumb to media hype. Not long ago some one placed a globule of mercury on the platform of the subway of a large US city (LA, IIRC) in full view of other passengers and a surveillance camera. The media had terrorists trying to poison the subway and all who ride in it. Fuzz and Hazmat boys everywhere! DerAlte reckons it was some undergrad (probably a chemist) who wondered just how stupid the media/establishment/HPA people were. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Let me give you my story. In my youth mercury fascinated me, as it has mankind since it was discovered. Initially I had about 50 g which I kept in a glass stoppered bottle in our little lab at home, 8ft X 15ft X 7ft, adjacent to my bedroom. My other hobby was electronics. I had procured two war (WWII) surplus mercury batteries, 90 volt IIRC. Many cells each. They weighed a ton. Commonly called Mallory cells, each unit was about AA size. They are banned in the US today.

When I had exhausted the batteries, I decided to extract the mercury. The anodes were zinc, electrolyte KOH, IIRC. I broke them up outside in a very large tub, not wearing gloves or any protectiont. There was plenty of liquid mercury which oozed out of the cells. I collected over 2 LBS. I then subjected it to nitric acid, sulphuric, then alkali, all dilute, to get rid of amalgamated zinc etc. I had a largish bottle of the stuff. Lovely! I was 17 or so at the time.

In addition I had mercuric (a class I poison, toxic LDO 37 mg/Kg, oral rat) and mercurous chloride plus HgO (also class I, LDO 18mg/Kg, rat oral; cf NaCN at 6mg.Kg) . Several times I heated Hg2Cl2 and HgO to see it produce Hg vapor; and boiled bits of mercury itself. I did numerous experiments with the metal, such as amalgamations of K, Na, and ‘NH4’. No precautions. That was over fifty years ago.

I have no neurological or kidney/liver symptoms - other than a slight tic when forced to listen to far right and left wing politicians. I am told that the names Clinton and Bush can also cause this. So don’t do any of these silly things!

OSHA and CDC have very good web sites on mercury toxicity. Your thermometer wouldn’t harm you if you broke it. For years mercury was used as a drug – the metal itself and compounds. Currently a mercury compound is being used to stabilize vaccines (Thimerosol). It is being suspected of causing autism in children.

Here’s a bit from the OSHA doc cited.

"The high vapor pressure of mercury at normal temperatures combined with the potential toxicity makes good control measures necessary to avoid exposure. Also, the concentration of mercury vapor in the air rapidly increases as the temperature increases. To illustrate, listed below are vapor pressures of mercury, and mercury concentrations of air after saturation with mercury vapor at different temperatures:

Vapor Pressure-Saturation Concentration of Mercury at Various Temperatures
________________________________________
Temperature Vapor Pressure Mercury Concentration
°C °F (torr) (µg/m3)
________________________________________
0 32.0 0.000185 2,180
10 50.0 0.000490 5,880
20 68.0 0.001201 13,200
24 75.2 0.001691 18,300
28 82.4 0.002359 25,200
30 86.0 0.002777 29,500
32 89.6 0.003261 34,400
36 96.8 0.004471 46,600
40 104.0 0.006079 62,600
________________________________________

Ref: Extracted from http://www.osha.gov/dts/sltc/methods/inorganic/id140/id140.h...

Also see: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/73-11024.html

Regards,

DerAlte
chemkid
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Just had this idea but, lets supose you wanted to do work with toxic mercury compounds or just play around with mercury in an easy enviorment: Could one fill a fish tank with parafin oil or the like and pour mercury intoso you can manipulate the mercury and it won't vaporize or will it just disolve?

woelen

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That would be a very messy thing. But it won't dissolve and won't evaporate.

But I have another remark. If you do not know for sure whether mercury dissolves in parafin oil or not, then I strongly suggest you first to read some more books on basic chemistry, before you start experimenting with mercury or its salts. I agree with DerAlte about the demonizing of mercury nowadays, but you have to know what you are doing and you have to know some of its basic properties. Also, you have to know how to handle it in such a way, that the risks (which certainly are there) are minimized. So, no demonizing, but studying.

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Jdurg
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The funny thing is, if you look at the table of vapor pressures and actually calculate out just how much Hg that is, you'll see that it's laughably small but they call it a "high vapor pressure".

At 24 C (typical room temperature) the vapor pressure is 0.001691 torr with a concentration of 18,300 ug per cubic meter. That means that one cubic meter (Which is a LOT of air-space) would have 18.3 milligrams of Hg in there. That's really not a whole lot. Unless you are in a sealed room with no air movement, it's not going to cause any problems.

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Pyrovus
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 Quote: Originally posted by DerAlte For years mercury was used as a drug – the metal itself and compounds.

True, but this was during a time in which methods which tended to do more harm than good, such as bloodletting, were considered to be effective. Mercury chloride was used to treat syphilis, and the toxicity of it was so great that the symptoms of mercury poisoning were confused for the symptoms of syphilis (which of course had the potential to lead to a vicious cycle - the patient suffers mercury poisoning, the symptoms of which are assumed to be caused by the syphilis, so more mercury is given to treat it). It was treatments like these which allowed homeopathy to gain a following in the 19th century - after all, a treatment with does nothing is superior to one which actually makes the patients sicker.

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YT2095
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a bit like that guy on Homeopathic medicine, he forgot to take his medicine and died of an Overdose

\"In a world full of wonders mankind has managed to invent boredom\" - Death
Twinkies don\'t have a shelf life. They have a half-life! -Caine (a friend of mine)
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