Table of contents:

What to do if a thermometer breaks
What to do if a thermometer breaks

Detailed instructions for those who do not know how to collect mercury and what to do next. A list of inadmissible errors is attached.

What to do if a thermometer breaks
What to do if a thermometer breaks

Why mercury is dangerous

Mercury is a metal. But not ordinary, very volatile. This means that at room temperature, the mercury outside the container (the same thermometer) begins to evaporate quickly. The fumes are released into the air and from there into the lungs. Accumulating in the body, mercury compounds cause poisoning.

The danger to health is so great that back in 2013, WHO recommended that thermometers and other medical devices based on mercury be abandoned.

Poisoning may not appear immediately. It takes several days or even months for the body to accumulate a toxic dose. The most common symptoms are weakness, general malaise, loss of appetite, metallic taste in the mouth, tremors in the fingers, headaches and sore throat, increased salivation, nausea, and vomiting. As you can see, they can be easily attributed to stress, fatigue, or poisoning of another etiology.

But if mercury continues to accumulate, more serious problems appear: the nervous, digestive, and immune systems suffer, the functioning of the lungs, liver, kidneys and other internal organs is disrupted. Sometimes the case ends in death.

Important! If the thermometer breaks in the presence of a small child or animal, there is a risk that they could swallow the shiny mercury ball. Most often it is safe: mercury is not absorbed from the healthy digestive tract in quantities that could cause poisoning, and is excreted in the feces. But it is still worth consulting with a pediatrician or veterinarian and observing the condition of the child or pet.

What should be done immediately after the thermometer crashed

First of all, remove children and animals from the room and close the door so that mercury vapor does not go into neighboring rooms.

To prevent anyone from transferring droplets of mercury on shoes, before entering, lay a rag soaked in a solution of potassium permanganate (1 g of potassium permanganate per 8 l of water) or a soap-soda solution (30 g of soda, 40 g of grated soap, 1 l of water).

If balls of a hazardous substance hit the heated floor, turn it off immediately. The higher the temperature, the faster the mercury evaporates.

And open the window to cool the room. But in any case, do not allow a draft, due to which mercury can scatter throughout the room. For the same reason, you should not turn on the fan or air conditioner until the end of cleaning.

Take care of yourself. Put shoe covers or plastic bags on your feet and rubber gloves on your hands. The airway also needs protection. For example, a disposable mask with a gauze nested inside dipped in a solution of potassium permanganate.

That's it, you are ready for demercurization (this is the name of the process of cleaning a room from mercury).

What not to do when collecting mercury

Before you start cleaning, be sure to read the important rules:

  1. Do not sweep the mercury with a broom or brush. Rigid rods will only grind the droplets into fine dust and spread throughout the room.
  2. Do not vacuum up the mercury. Warm air makes the substance evaporate even more intensely. In addition, particles will remain on the engine parts and will spread throughout the apartment during the next cleaning.
  3. Do not throw the thermometer and collected mercury balls into the waste chute. This will pollute the air throughout the house.
  4. Do not pour mercury down the toilet, do not rinse rags and other handy materials in the sink. Otherwise, the metal will settle in the sewer pipes, and it will be very difficult to remove it from there.

How to collect mercury if a thermometer breaks

It can be difficult: drops of mercury are very mobile and easily clog behind the baseboards, in the cracks in the floor, the pile of carpets, and upholstery. The Ministry of Emergency Situations recommends to proceed as follows.

1. Remove the broken thermometer from the floor

You will need a glass jar with a lid or any other airtight container. A volume of 0.5–1 liters is sufficient. Pour water or potassium permanganate solution into the jar and carefully put the pieces of the thermometer collected from the floor there.

2. Look at things that may have been exposed to mercury

If you find any, collect them in a closed plastic bag. Later, when you are finished cleaning the room, the contaminated clothing or toys will have to be disposed of along with the mercury and thermometer fragments. You cannot hope for washing - small metal particles will settle in the washing machine, and this is fraught with contamination of other things.

Dry cleaning or just throwing it away is also a bad option. Dry cleaning sometimes fails, and someone can pick up and use the thrown thing and use it, which is unsafe.

3. Collect the large balls of mercury

Move from the corners of the room to the center. With thick paper, cotton wool dipped in a solution of potassium permanganate, or with a brush, push the drops onto a sheet of A4 paper. Then brush the balls into the jar, where the fragments of the thermometer lie.

You can also use regular tape: glue a small piece on the floor where there is mercury, and tear off with the balls. Then send the tape with mercury to the jar.

4. Be sure to look for and remove small drops of mercury

They are more dangerous than large ones: their common surface is large, and therefore evaporation is more active.

Use a syringe, fine-tipped blower, or paintbrush to collect all the mercury residue and reach the smallest droplets in cracks in the floor, under baseboards and in carpet piles.

What to do if a thermometer breaks: collect balls of mercury
What to do if a thermometer breaks: collect balls of mercury

Attention! If there are a lot of small balls and the process of finding them is delayed, take a break every 15 minutes and go out into the fresh air for a few minutes.

Close the jar with the collected mercury tightly with a lid and put it in a cool place, preferably on the balcony. Fold the brush, paper, syringe and other materials at hand in a tight plastic bag. Tie it up and place it next to the jar.

How to process a room

After you have collected the mercury, you need to further process the room. First, wash the floor with bleach.

Prepare a solution of chlorine bleach in a plastic (not metal, this is important!) Bucket: 1 liter of the product in 8 liters of water. Then, thoroughly rinse the floor and other contaminated surfaces using a sponge, brush or doormat. Pay particular attention to cracks and crevices. Leave the solution on surfaces for 15 minutes, then rinse off with plain water.

Finally, once again treat the floor and surfaces with a solution of potassium permanganate (1 g per 8 liters of water). As a result of this procedure, the uncollected liquid mercury is oxidized and ceases to emit poisonous vapors into the air.

If neither bleach nor potassium permanganate was found at home, it is permissible to use a hot soap-soda solution: 30 g of soda, 40 g of grated soap per 1 liter of water.

Put the sponge, brush or rag with which you washed the floor in a bag, tie it up and place it next to the jar of mercury.

Then ventilate the room for 2-3 hours. If small drops of mercury remain unnoticed by you on the floor, they will safely evaporate and disappear into the open window. Then vacuum the room, immediately put the bag from the vacuum cleaner in the bag with dirty things.

What to do after that

When you're done, take care of yourself:

  • Wash gloves and shoes with a solution of potassium permanganate, and then with a soap-soda solution.
  • Rinse your mouth with a mild pink potassium permanganate solution.
  • Brush your teeth thoroughly.
  • Take two to three activated charcoal tablets.

The collected substance and contaminated instruments and items packed in plastic bags must be sent to a facility that can recycle mercury. The nearest sanitary and epidemiological station will tell you its address - just call and ask for help with disposal. The SES phone number can be found on the Internet.

In the next few weeks, try to regularly clean the floor with a chlorine-containing solution (follow the instructions on the package of the product), ventilate the room more often and more intensively, and drink more fluids - the compounds that are formed in the body when mercury vapor is inhaled are excreted through the kidneys.

What to do if you are not sure you have collected all the mercury

The answer is optimistic: worry less. If we are talking about a broken thermometer, then there is not much mercury in it - only about 1–2 g. According to Ecospace research, if you remove the visible balls, the concentration of toxic fumes will not exceed the maximum permissible values and will not harm your health. And in a few weeks of intensive ventilation, it will completely drop to zero.

If you are still worried, call 112 in the Ministry of Emergency Situations and report that your thermometer has broken. They will write down your address, tell you what to do, or come home to completely clean the room. It's free.

However, there is a nuance. Often, EMERCOM employees find themselves loaded with other things and cannot always promptly help with a broken thermometer. In this case, you can call a paid demercurization service in your city.

This material was first published in February 2017. In March 2020, we updated the text.


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