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Dangers of exposure to Mercury

05 December 2014

The correct handling of mercury is of great importance to ensure workers are not exposed to health risks. Mercury is a neurotoxin that directly affects the central nervous and renal systems. At room temperature Mercury vaporizes quickly, making it particularly easy to be absorbed into the lungs.

Prolonged exposure to mercury dust or vapors, can lead to several health issues, but with initial symptoms similar to other illness states, proactively monitoring mercury levels within higher risk environments is essential.

Where should you consider mercury monitoring?
Mercury is used in many industrial applications, such as in Thermostats, fluorescent bulbs, chemicals and staining solutions. Any spillage should be monitored with a Mercury Monitor, and if a spillage is identified, should be cleaned up appropriately.

Mercury contamination can present a real challenge as pinpointing mercury spillage is exceptionally challenging.

A spillage will frequently mean mercury liquid scatters some distance from the original drop point. A modest quantity of mercury can result in significant contamination. Mercury will also condense when cold making identification even more difficult.

Test the same area 2 hours after the heating comes on and the occupancy level is normal and you may identify unacceptably high levels of mercury. An oxide layer often forms around globules of mercury, however temperature and traffic breaks down the oxide layer.

Inevitably, visually identifying the contamination is not possible. If the spillage occurs onto a carpet or similar flooring identification demands the use of an instrument.
How to survey an area for mercury contamination 
  1. The area should be heated to vaporize any spilt mercury.
  2. Start with the source of the spill and then work your way out to the perimeter of the room. Because of the scattering of the mercury when spilt, contamination frequently occurs around the perimeter of the room as well as at the point of spillage.
  3. Mercury sampling should be taken at ankle height as dilution takes place at higher levels.  
Using the correct mercury vapor instruments
The MVI, mercury vapor indicator from Shawcity, will give a direct reading at levels as low as 0.1micrograms/m3.
When vapor is detected, the MVI will rapidly spike to indicate mercury and recover to low levels when moving away from the spillage.
Clean up of the Spillage

Once the spillage points have been identified, clean-up should be carried out. Clean-up requires the use of flower of sulphur. Simple clean-up kits are available. Mercury spillage should never be removed using a vacuum cleaner.
The vacuum will become contaminated. Subsequent use of the vacuum would spread mercury creating further contamination.  
If you would like further information about our mercury monitor solutions, available for both hire and purchase please contact us on 01367 899553. Our trained experts will be able to advise you on the correct instrumentation to ensure your working environment is correctly monitored to current legislation and standards.