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Tuesday
Sep132011

Mercury Response

     The spilling of mercury at first seems a minor release. Mercury is a heavy metal element in liquid form at room temperature. Many years ago before the scope of its health hazard was known, it was used as a decorative finish to jewelry, dishware and many other common, frequently handled items.

     Mercury in any of its industrial forms can be inhaled when heated above 68 degrees Fahrenheit as mercuric pent-oxide, or absorbed through the skin as a solid below these temperatures. Inhalation transports the oxide immediately into the blood. Skin absorption, transports this material through the blood in elemental form to the central nervous system where harmful oxidation occurs. Characteristic symptoms include but are not limited to; hand tremors, shyness, insomnia, emotional instability, and impaired hearing/vision. These symptoms were manifested in the “Mad Hatter” character from the book, “Alice in Wonderland”. At the time of this writing, Hat makers exhibited these symptoms because the production of felt hats involved dipping the cured felt in pools of mercury. Due to their constant exposure, makers of hats contracted these abnormalities.

     Enclosed is a response hazardous materials clean-up strategy and tactics, which should be followed at a minimum. You can enhance these measures but should never lessen them. Of course the standard is every situation is different so engineering controls may have satisfied some of these procedures. Your normal HazMat SOP’s are assumed implemented before you begin. For spills involving less than a teaspoon of mercury;

1] Evacuate the spill area. Before evacuation, leave on-site any shoes or clothing that may have been splashed with elemental mercury. These items will be disposed of by your hazardous waste contractor.

2] Lower the temperature by turning down the thermostat. The colder the environment the less vapors you inhale. Mercury doubles its VP with a 10 degree temperature increase. Concern should be given towards a central HVAC unit. While you want cold, you do not want to circulate mercury vapors throughout the entire building thus spreading contamination.

3] Close openings to the spill area; isolate with doors the Hot-Zone. Determine the volume of spilled mercury. If more than two {2} teaspoons= 1 lb. must be reported using tier II information and documentation as a Hazardous Materials Release.

4] Confine the spill to the exclusion zone. Surround this area with “berming” or “booming” of any type. They become hazardous waste.

5] Ventilate the spill area to the outdoors, windows, exterior door, etc. Time length should be a minimum of one hour for rooms or residences, one day for office buildings. Mercury spill vapors are heavier than air so ventilate from the ground level up. In a single room, place your electric PPV on the floor for proper ventilation.

6] Begin clean-up, using collected tools. The goal is to collect the mercury with little or no agitation creating vapors. On flooring, an index or credit type card and plastic dust pan work well. Duct tape for carpets works best for absorbent materials. Transfer all collected elemental mercury to plastic disposable containers with sealed lids to reduce vaporization. These containers and tools should be disposable. After collection and containment, seal all mercury containers in zip-lock bags before transportation by hazardous waste contractor.

7] Every covering other than hard sealed surfaces can easily absorb elemental mercury, therefore, removal of all carpeting, rugs, wallpaper or any other material must be removed from the area and properly disposed of. Especially in residential homes where children and pets come into direct, constant contact with spilled elemental mercury. Check methods exist to confirm your clean-up. Powdered Zinc can be spread onto surfaces to chemically bind with mercury for additional clean-up. Powdered sulfur visualizes mercury by turning from yellow to dark brown in color. Dusting an area with powdered sulfur also reduces mercury vapors. These compounds can be found at local garden stores for use in your clean-up kit.

8] Additional monitoring for missed mercury may be necessary. Levels should be below 0.03mg/m3 in air, if not, repeat above procedure.

9] Wash humans and pets with a strong alkaline soap {LAVA} mixed with a paste of “flowers of sulfur”. This can be found at garden supply shops and will turn the mercury into an insoluble sulfide. After wash all waste water should be kept out of the sanitary sewer system.

10] Recommend all mercury items be replaced with non-elemental mercury items or equipment.

     As you can see, mercury spills are anything but a minor release. They can tax manpower, equipment, and timely operations for the littlest of spills. Standing by your SOP’s, rotating personnel, and proper decontamination methods can successfully mitigate any mercury spill your team responds to.                              

                                             Haz Mat Mike

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