In this short video from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, learn how to avoid mercury hazards. Graphics and animations illustrate the liquid appearance of elemental mercury and warn viewers about the dangers of exposure. Hear about how you should not touch mercury and how it can contaminate objects in the home.
Pure, or elemental, mercury (also known as metallic mercury) is a silvery liquid metal at room temperature. It is used in common household items such as thermometers, barometers, thermostats, and batteries. However, because of its potential toxic effects, it is very important to avoid contact with mercury. While mercury is not harmful when properly encased, if you were to accidentally break an object that contained mercury, you and everything around you could be exposed, and you should be cautious with its cleanup. Exposure to mercury can cause nausea, headache, and respiratory problems, as well as alter neuromuscular and cognitive functions. High levels of exposure can damage the brain and nervous system, and it is especially damaging to developing fetuses and children.
For small mercury spills, such as a broken thermometer, it is possible to clean up the mess without calling health or environmental authorities. Although children and pregnant women should be kept away from the spill, an adult could take action by first opening windows and doors to ventilate the area (but shut doors to other rooms of the house). Fans could also help to blow the contaminated air outside. If the spill occurs on a smooth, hard surface, two stiff pieces of paper should be used to roll the mercury into a ball, which could then be placed into a sealed jar or plastic bag. Sticky tape could be used to help pick up any remaining mercury droplets and fragments of other material (such as glass or powder); a flashlight could be used to help locate beads of mercury that may have spread far from the spill. After wiping the area with a damp paper towel, the adult should place all contaminated materials into a sealed plastic bag. The materials should be double bagged (one plastic bag inside another one) and labeled as hazardous waste; check with local authorities about how to dispose of it.
One should always wear protective gloves (such as latex or nitrile), and cleaning products should not be used to clean the spill, as they could react with the mercury to release a toxic gas. In addition, do not use a vacuum cleaner or broom to clean up mercury because they could increase exposure by further dispersing the mercury; a vacuum cleaner would increase the amount of mercury vapor in the air, and a broom would break up the mercury into smaller drops, which would spread and scatter. If the spill occurs on carpeting, it may be best to dispose of the carpet. If clothing comes in contact with mercury, it should be disposed of (laundering would pollute the water).
Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are another common household item that contains mercury. There is no risk of mercury exposure when the bulbs are intact, although there is mercury vapor and mercury-containing powder within the glass tubing. These environmentally friendly light bulbs are more energy efficient than regular incandescent bulbs and are recommended, although it is important to dispose of them properly; CFLs should be recycled to prevent mercury from getting into the environment and to reuse the glass and other materials. In the event that you accidentally break a CFL, similar clean-up precautions to those above should be taken.
Academic standards correlations on Teachers' Domain use the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) database of state and national standards, provided to NSDL projects courtesy of JES & Co.
We assign reference terms to each statement within a standards document and to each media resource, and correlations are based upon matches of these terms for a given grade band. If a particular standards document of interest to you is not displayed yet, it most likely has not yet been processed by ASN or by Teachers' Domain. We will be adding social studies and arts correlations over the coming year, and also will be increasing the specificity of alignment.