Human exposure to mercury is primarily caused by consuming fish that contains methylmercury. Another common cause of exposure is contact with elemental mercury, a silver colored metal that is liquid at room temperature. Exposure to a small amount of elemental mercury over time can cause serious health effects, especially in children and fetuses. Mercury is present in thermometers, barometers, thermostats, blood pressure instruments, and compact fluorescent (newer energy saving) light bulbs. The most common cause of mercury contamination in homes is from broken fever thermometers. Humans are exposed to the mercury by inhalation of mercury vapors or by absorbing the mercury through the skin.
Health effects from long-term exposure to a small amount of elemental mercury:
· Personality changes, including mood swings and irritability
· Muscle weakness or twitching
· Reduced cognitive function
Children and fetuses are extremely sensitive to mercury contamination, so pregnant women and women of child bearing age should avoid exposure.
The easiest way to avoid exposure to mercury is to remove anything in your home that contains mercury. Replace old mercury thermometers by taking them to the Grand Portage hazardous waste collection or to your local hazardous waste collection. The Grand Portage Clinic will replace a mercury thermometer with a new one, so call the Clinic for more information.
Image courtesy of projectmindwake.blogspot.com/2011/02/end-of-mercury-thermometers-is-near-due.html
What if I already spilled mercury in my home?
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is willing to come to Grand Portage to test homes for mercury spills. If you have spilled mercury, they can test to ensure that all mercury has been removed. It is extremely important to remove all mercury, especially if there are children or you expect there to be children in your home. Call Yvette at Trust Lands to set up an appointment.
How to clean up a small amount of mercury (from the Minnesota Department of Health):
- Isolate the spill. Open all windows and exterior doors in the room where the spill occurred. Close all interior doors and air ducts and turn off air handlers or heaters to ensure that mercury vapor does not travel through the house.
- Keep everyone away from the spill, and children and pregnant women should leave the house.
- Only clean the spill yourself if it a small amount, such as the amount in a fever thermometer. Otherwise, call professionals.
- Remove any clothes or shoes that may be contaminated with mercury and place them in a sealed plastic bag. Take a shower to remove mercury from your skin.
- Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the mercury because the mercury will be broken into smaller drops and will evaporate quicker.
- Wear gloves to clean up the spill. If the mercury spilled on a hard surface, push the beads of mercury together using a piece of cardboard and place it into a container that can be sealed. Use a flashlight to look for any additional mercury. The drops of mercury can spread far and can drop into cracks and crevices.
- If the spill occurred on a carpet, cut the contaminated area of the carpet and pad, and fold the carpet piece so that the mercury is trapped inside. Place into a plastic bag. If you refuse to cut out the carpet, use wet paper towels or an eyedropper to pick up the drops of mercury.
- Place the mercury and anything that has been contaminated by mercury into a plastic bag, label the bag Mercury: Hazardous, and dispose of at your local Hazardous Waste Collection.