Mercury and Health Concerns

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jollyrgr
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Mercury and Health Concerns

Post by jollyrgr » Mon Feb 13, 2006 3:54 pm

A nurse drops and breaks a thermometer....

http://www.wnyt.com/x6959.xml?ag=x156&sb=x183

I know the fear of mercury is strong in the US. Is this true throughout the world? Has anyone participated in the mercury exchange program? Hospitals hold these every so often where they exchange a mercury thermometer for an electronic digital thermometer. Is there really that much a need to get rid of mercury?

I remember having "silent" mercury switches in the house I grew up in. The thermostat had mercury in it. Now you do not see these anymore because of the dangers of mercury. Is this a real concern or one of those fake things like silicone implants leaking and R12 refrigerant causing holes in the ozone?

An unbroken mercury thermometer will last many many years. I cannot believe the risk of breaking a mercury thermometer can be more environmentally damaging than replacing the batteries in a thermometer every couple years; not to mention the added metals and what not used to produce a digital thermometer. Is this something that is world wide or is this a US problem?
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Chris Smith
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Re: Mercury and Health Concerns

Post by Chris Smith » Mon Feb 13, 2006 4:17 pm

Yes its bad.

But not all thermometers use mercury.

Birth defects, brain damage, chronic health problems, etc., etc., etc.

Just a few of the risk factors [msds]...

May cause harm to the unborn child.
Risk of impaired fertility.
Will cause skin irritant.
If absorbed through skin can cause anuria.
If comes in contact with eyes will cause corneal injury or burns.
If ingested immediate necrosis in mouth, throat,esophgus and stomach.
Death may occur.
If inhaled fever, coughing nausea and vomiting are possible.
If inhaled move to fresh air, if not breathing give artificial respiration.
If ingested get immediate medical attention.
Induce vomiting.
If comes in contact with eyes wash with water for atleast15 minutes.
If gets on skin wash with plenty of soap and water.

Dean Huster
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Re: Mercury and Health Concerns

Post by Dean Huster » Mon Feb 13, 2006 5:31 pm

I've never seen a clinical thermometer that wasn't a mercury type, regardless of whether it had a red end or a blue end. The biggest threat that hospitals were trying to reduce was the use of mercuric rectal thermometers for infants, more because of injury from misinsertion than the mercury.

Not to downplay the dangers of mercury as Chris cited, but as a kid, we used to play with the stuff all the time, making dimes shiny and chasing balls of the stuff around in our hands, and none of us have yet to have any body parts fall off. But they have found high mercury levels in fish and that's thrown a scare into a lot of folks, too, especially those who used to fish in "dead end" lakes as some water reservoirs are.

Mercuric vapors and mercuric compounds appear to be much more dangerous than elemental mercury at STP.

Actually, I think that a more pressing concern is the disposal of all these alkaline, NiCd and silver-oxide cells and batteries. The proliferation of "AA" batteries I think has mushroomed to an alarming extent. Except for the lousy life, it makes one really appreciate the old, original carbon-zinc cells a lot more.

Dean

<small>[ February 13, 2006, 05:34 PM: Message edited by: Dean Huster ]</small>
Dean Huster, Electronics Curmudgeon
Contributing Editor emeritus, "Q & A", of the former "Poptronics" magazine (formerly "Popular Electronics" and "Electronics Now" magazines).

R.I.P.

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dacflyer
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Re: Mercury and Health Concerns

Post by dacflyer » Mon Feb 13, 2006 7:04 pm

Hmmm,, whats the difference between a oral thermometer and a rectal thermometer???
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THE TASTE ! {:>p yuk !

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Re: Mercury and Health Concerns

Post by Yerry » Mon Feb 13, 2006 7:21 pm

I used to use the Radio Shack "Red" batteries in my DX radios because their RF impedance improved AMDX. When the FTC ordered all Mercury out of batteries, RS couldn't sell the Reds any more.

Mercury causes two main issues: heavy industry putting the stuff in water for the fish to eat, and direct exposure to humans via breakage.

The most common breakage is by thermometer, medical mostly, then science activities. I do a demonstration-- rarely nowadays-- under a hood where a tiny ball of Mercury creates NO visible vapors. Then, under a UV light, there's an incredible, fast-moving PLUME of vapor showing. It's nasty stuff.

The thing about mercury switches and the like is that they're unlikely to break. You won't see one in a hospital, of course, or new construction, but taht one in the quiet room will still be good 50 years from now.

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Re: Mercury and Health Concerns

Post by jollyrgr » Tue Feb 14, 2006 5:55 pm

Thanks for the input. I'm wondering if it is a real threat or not. I understand eating it is bad; that would make sense. But growing up we used mercury thermometers for fevers and I knew how to take my own temperature. But every so often shaking the thermometer down resulted in a flung device which broke. (My mom couldn't say anything about it as she did it as well.) The little balls of mercury were amusing and hard to pick up.

Through the years of school science classes someone would break one of the big science thermometers; it just happened. This even at the college level. NO evacuations; just clean up the mess. In school the mercury was put in hazarous waste containers and the glass in a special container for broken glass. No Haz Mat teams, no closing down the school, no evacuations. The mess was cleaned up and the experiment repeated. Now a simple thermometer is dropped and the clinic is shut down! I was wondering if this is just something that happens in the USA or world wide. I have mercury based fillings in my mouth right now; no huge concern to have them removed.

I'm wondering if this is a "scare" like implants, R12 refrigerant, and so on.
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Chris Smith
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Re: Mercury and Health Concerns

Post by Chris Smith » Tue Feb 14, 2006 6:39 pm

Its no scare, its called accumulative hazzards. The earth, the air, and the water is a closed system and when he had a small population we arrogantly thought it would last for ever.

The old saying was "The answer to pollution is dilution" but that was a joke that only lasted a few decades.

As we learn more about our world with less arrogance and less greed blocking that process, we learn that we live in a sealed test tube and the notion of “piss in your corner, sleep in your corner” has new meanings.

Yes we over react to some simple threats like a drop of mercury on the floor, but Freon and the stupid practice of body mutilations using toxic implants aren’t part of that scare.

They are real.

And those who think pollution is too expensive to deal with aren’t looking at the big picture. First, we have no choice, and second, there is a gold mine out there in the science industry of pollution control, Research, design, and the public jobs taking care of this mess which is all good for the economy, but only if.

So even polluters can help the economy if not the environment, but again, only if we could ship one ounce of insight over to DC?

That will never happen, so I guess we really are screwed?

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Re: Mercury and Health Concerns

Post by peter-f » Mon Feb 27, 2006 5:52 pm

IF you need to store elemental Hg - it can be safely stored if you observe one key characteristic- Its Vapors are more hazardous than the liquid (elemental) form.

To store it, Fill a container near-full... close tightly and store it on its HEAD - the air space shoud be kept AWAY from the container's seal- (think of an inverted jar).

If you have any and want to dispose of it legally, note that it can be expensive! Do not get 'caught' with it... you can be assesed disposal fees that are absurd.

Here in NJ, I heard of the DEP using a flat bed truck to carry a hazardous waste from a residence in (IIRC) Atlantic City... cargo was about the size of a case of paper. You just don't know how those beaureaucrats think!

The state of PA and the Auto industry have (had?) a program to recover HG switches from trunk lids when cars are junked... I'd do a google for similar programs on a more local level if you need.

Also- recycling old buildings is common in older east-coast cities... and can get the former owner caught up in toxic-waste disputes if/when the buildings become residences.

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Re: Mercury and Health Concerns

Post by haklesup » Wed Mar 01, 2006 12:53 pm

The stink about mercury is not so much the threat to individuals who contact it at home but the threat posed by large scale accumulation in landfills.

As a heavy liquid it can move easily through the heap to the water table below where it threatens to contaminate the local water sources and costs much money to remove from the water that comes off the landfill liner.

Elemental mercury is not all that dangerous. Its the salts and oxides it forms that are very toxic.

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