Mercury is extremely poisonous. Short-term or long-term exposures to mercury can lead to serious health problems, including death. Human exposure to mercury occurs primarily from breathing contaminated air. Mercury is also readily absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract and through the skin. Even though symptoms do not appear, serious damage can be done to the human body. The effect on the body by mercury is cumulative and not readily reversible. Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up a mercury spill. Children and pregnant women should not be exposed to mercury. In the case of a large mercury spill, all occupants should evacuate the area.

Click here on Fish Tissue Advisories for updated information on advisories in Mississippi and other states.

Mercury can often be found around the home and business in thermometers, thermostats, and fluorescent lamps. If there is an accidental release of mercury, there are safe practices that can be utilized while handling and disposing of small amounts (less than 1 teaspoon) of liquid mercury. If there is a larger spill of mercury, professional assistance will be needed to cleanup the material. Large spills of mercury can be life threatening and should be handled by professionals as quickly as possible to limit exposure.

Handling Mercury

If mercury escapes into the environment there are several things that should be done to ensure safety and proper cleanup. Remove all jewelry, especially gold because mercury readily combines with gold . Handle the mercury carefully. Wear rubber gloves and scoop the mercury onto a sheet of paper or suck it up with an eyedropper. Place the mercury in a medicine vial or similar airtight container. The scoop, paper or eyedropper should also be bagged and disposed properly. Ventilate the room to the outside and close off the rest of the home or building. Use fans for a minimum of one hour to speed the ventilation. Do not simply throw the mercury away. Seek information from Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality at 601/961-5171 on the proper disposal of mercury.

Keep any objects containing mercury out of the reach of children. Children found to be playing with liquid mercury or broken fluorescent lamps should be referred to a physician or poison control center immediately. Mercury contaminated gold jewelry must be taken to a jeweler to have them professionally cleaned. While handling mercury, or any other hazardous substance, one should always wear protective gloves. If mercury comes in contact with the skin, wash the area(s) thoroughly and immediately with soap and warm water. A physician or the poison control center should be immediately contacted if it is believed that mercury has been absorbed through the skin or mercury vapor has been inhaled.

This information was developed in part by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.