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I've read that powdered elemental sulfur will react to the presence of mercury vapor in the air creating red mercury sulfide, and that an open container of sulfur can be used as a means to verify leaks in a container of mercury that's being kept in a storage cabinet. But is the sulfur reaction/color change sensitive enough relative to the permissible levels of mercury vapor that might exist?

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    $\begingroup$ I remember reading that the reaction of sulfur and mercury was much too slow to be of much use in absorbing any spilled mercury ... $\endgroup$ – Dissenter Oct 23 '14 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ OK - thanks - but what about detecting vapors? $\endgroup$ – docscience Oct 23 '14 at 3:53
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    $\begingroup$ I'd imagine it'd be too slow; i.e. you'd be poisoned before the sulfur reacted. $\endgroup$ – Dissenter Oct 23 '14 at 3:53
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    $\begingroup$ AFAIK, poor man's test is to use white copper(I) iodide, see wiki. Sulfur is not effective enough. $\endgroup$ – permeakra Oct 23 '14 at 4:47
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The vapour pressure of mercury is appreciable, but the evaporation kinetics are slow. In a well-ventilated lab there shouldn't be concern about mercury poisoning from broken thermometers, Schlenk lines &c.

That said, there is Alfred Stock's famous review (Angewandte Chemie, 1926) on mercury poisoning. He suffered from a chronic case of mercury poisoning, which IIRC really took off after the war, when they had to save on ventilation. In old laboratory buildings the quantities found under the wood flooring during renovation are at times staggering. Our safety guys liked to show pictures of puddles.

To detect mercury there are commercially available detectors, usually build around the resistance of a vacuum-deposited gold film (a few 100 atoms thick). A low-pressure mercury lamp might also work.

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