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Thread: Help- broken mercury thermometer- what to do next?

  1. #1

    Help- broken mercury thermometer- what to do next?

    I'm really freaking out here.

    This morning DH knocked a mercury thermometer out of the medicine cabinet while reaching for something else. We didn't even know we still owned a mercury thermometer! The thermometer bounced off the sink, fell out of its case, and broke on the tile floor.

    We removed all of the visible mercury by scooping it up on cardboard and placing it in a sealed bag.

    Here are the two unfortunate things: 1- because DH didn't realize at first that the thermometer contained mercury, he walked in and out of the bathroom a few times, potentially tracking a few droplets into other parts of the house. 2- DH ran the vacuum over the tile floor and bath rug to pick up any remaining broken glass. As it turns out, vacuuming mercury is a really bad thing to do because it vaporizes, and breathing it is potentially really harmful, especially to infants- we have a 9-month-old DS. We don't think there was any more mercury on the floor, but we don't know for 100 % sure, especially about the bath rug.

    I called Poison Control, and they said that based on my description there was probably no need for concern, BUT that because the vacuum had been used and there was even a small potential for contamination, that we should replace it (because if it does have mercury anywhere in it, vapors would be released each time we use the vacuum). They didn't seem to think there was any real risk of problems related to vapor exposure, though. We also called DS's doctor and left a message with the answering service.

    So- we will dispose of the vacuum and bath rug, we have closed the bathroom where the mercury spilled and are running an exhaust fan to ventilate the room, we are ventilating the rest of the first floor separately.

    What else would you do? I'm considering taking DS to a friend's house for the night, to let the air continue to clear. I'm also wondering about replacing the carpeting in the adjacent room because of the possibility that some mercury was tracked onto it- this is the room where DS spends most of his play time.

    I know I may sound really alarmist, but I can't stand the thought of allowing DS to be exposed to a health threat- I want to make sure we've done as much as we can to minimize any risk. DH is beside himself- he feels terrible for causing the incident and even worse because he used the vacuum.

    Any thoughts? Thanks so much!!!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2000
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    Blue Ridge Mts of VA!
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    Stephanie, first of all, relax! I remember playing with mercury from broken thermometers when I was a child and I'm okay now! I understand the concern from the vapors. If you feel best getting DS out of the house for a bit, then maybe you should do that. At the very least, it will give you peace of mind. I didn't know anything about the vapors and the vacuum. I never heard that. It's certainly useful information, though! I do own a mercury themometer still, but don't use it with the kids and I keep it out of reach. The digital ones annoy me with inaccurate readings!

    Anyway, it sounds like you did all you could and you spoke with poison control, who are the real experts. Sounds like it'll be okay.
    Wouldn't you like to be a Susan, too?

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2001
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    DH and his brothers used to play with the mercury from thermometers as kids. He's 66 and fine.
    I agree that you should try to get rid of it safely (it does vaporize), but it isn't immediate life-threatening situation. The worst thing about mercury is CONTINUED exposure ...more and more over time which is cummulative--just like xrays.
    Thoreau said, 'A man is rich in proportion to the things he can leave alone.'

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
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    arlington, VA
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    Stephanie,

    To add to your peace of mind and really just to cover your bases, I would also check in with your state environmental agency (NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection) and your EPA office (which is EPA Region 2 based out of NYC). You can find numbers on the web for both agencies. I work mostly on water issues, so don't know much about mercury exposure through air or physical contact, so I don't have contacts at either agency in the area you would be concerned about, but both agencies have people experienced in clean up of mercury spills. Unfortunately, today you won't catch anyone at the offices, but tomorrow they should be there.

    I know they have closed schools around here for broken mercury thermometers, but that is also probably because in a school you just have no idea how much stuff gets spread around. Mercury is generally more chronically toxic in small exposures, so mostly, you probably just want to make sure you've gotten everything cleaned up.

    Good luck!

  5. #5
    Join Date
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  6. #6
    Thanks all. I'm calming down a little bit. I know I played with mercury as a kid too, and I guess I'm okay. Apparently swallowing it isn't a big deal, as it just moves right through your system. But skin exposure and breathing the vapors are apparently more problematic. I just hate not being 100% sure.

    Kellie, thanks for the idea to call the EPA office- I'll do that tomorrow.

    Gumbeaux, thanks for the link. I did google "broken mercury thermometer" and some of the sites I found were what got me so worked up to begin with! I think we've done what we can for now.

    Now we all know that I am really easily freaked out!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
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    Ulster County, NY
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    Hoping you feel better soon Stephanie! What a scary experience - glad things seem to be settling down now.

    DH and I thought we'd broken a mercury oven thermometer and totally flipped out a couple years ago. Turns out it wasn't mercury, but I remember that panic clearly.

    Hang in there!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2000
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    Glad to hear that swallowing it isn't a big deal. I recall well sticking a mercury therm. in my soup as a child to get the reading higher so I wouldn't have to go back to school That mercury just rolled around on the bottom of my soup bowl and I guess I ate some til I realized it happened! Also, we had a lab in our basement growing up and we used to play with it too. I think much of the concern is over exposure to kids, so you are right to be concerned and taking every precaution with a 9 mo. around!
    "I may be going to hell in a bucket, but at least I'm enjoying the ride"

  9. #9
    In a less serious direction: If mercury comes in contact with gold (as in a ring, etc) it just sticks on, and will discolor and eventually damage it. This happened to me years ago after breaking a therm and picking up the mercury. The mercury on my rings covered like a coat of paint and wouldn't come off. I had to have them cleaned (don't know the process) by a jeweler.

    Shar

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2001
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    Oregon
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    6,903
    Hi Stephanie!
    What's the latest? Hopefully you are over the worst of the panic, things are cleaned up and everyone is healthy.

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