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My friend broke a mercury thermometer and threw the mercury in the fire. Is this dangerous? and what should she do about the fireplace?

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closed as off-topic by Todd Minehardt, Jan, Klaus-Dieter Warzecha, bon, ron Dec 10 '16 at 17:39

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Personal medical questions are off-topic on Chemistry. We can not safely answer questions for your specific situation and you should always consult a doctor for medical advice." – Todd Minehardt, Jan, Klaus-Dieter Warzecha, bon, ron
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ He is not asking for medical advice. He is asking about the dangers of mercury and how he should treat his fireplace going forward. $\endgroup$ – A.K. Dec 10 '16 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ This is a dangerous situation. DO NOT use the fireplace. Get the help of professionals trained in hazardous material cleanup. $\endgroup$ – ron Dec 10 '16 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ Mercury has a high vapour pressure and can be poisonous, as a heavy metal, if it get into the body , such as via under the finger nails; supposedly. The usual way to remove mercury is to cover the area with lots sulphur powder, this converts it to the sulphide which has a low vapour pressure. $\endgroup$ – porphyrin Dec 10 '16 at 19:54
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Note that I generally do not use a lot of boldface in posts. Please recognise that it is required here.

Immediately get out of the room! Keep children and pregnant women away! Ventilate that room very well for a long amount of time! And never let your friend handle a mercury thermometer again!

Liquid mercury is not as dangerous as some people make it to be; a number of mercury compounds (e.g. dimethyl mercury) are much more toxic. However, that is because of the way most people would be exposed to mercury typically. If the thermometer breaks, there is a puddle of mercury on the floor and barring yourself doing anything stupid it will take a while for the mercury to fully evaporate. It’s inhaling mercury vapour that is most dangerous with respect to liquid mercury.

Mercury’s boiling point, according to Wikipedia, is some $350~\mathrm{^\circ C}$. A fire in a fireplace is typically hotter. Thus, by pouring mercury into the fire, your friend has chosen the most effective way to generate mercury vapour quickly from liquid mercury. Unless the fireplace is a closed oven, this vapour will now gladly move around the room with air currents, thus being easily breathed in and absorbed by the body.

Of all the ways to handle mercury, your friend chose the most dangerous and the most stupid!

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I would start some sort of remediation immediately, do not use the fireplace for starters. It's definitely not good. You can look at information for mercury vapor lamps, the fire was about the worst place to put it. Keep pregnant people away. See for example there are some CDC documents about this search for "mercury vapor exposure" and take a look.

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I think dangerous is the wrong word, so no. However, your friend did an incredibly stupid thing as mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause sterility in men, so hazardous? Yes.

It has a boiling point above that which fire burns so it's already dispersed in the air and house and not much you can do beyond remove the fireplace and flue pipes. We live in the real world though and you probably can't afford a proper hazmat remediation and are better off not doing anything other than perhaps let the fire burn for a time while you are not home.

People in the 50's played with mercury and survived so it's not likely anyone will die from the mercury however mercury accumulates in the body's fat cells and is not excreted, so any exposure stays with you for life.

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