How dangerous is mercury?

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stephenkohnle53

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I have heard people claim that if you stick your hand in mercury, if you do not have any injuries on you, you will not be harmed as long as you have good ventilation. I have also heard people claim that mercury is basically a manifestation of death itself. So how dangerous truly is mercury? By the way even if you do say that it isn't too dangerous I still wont go near it since I have asthma and no reason to go near mercury.
 
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  • #2
BvU
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Very wise decision. You did google, I suppose ? Lots of material on the net. (some horrendous)
Mercury vapour is poisonous, but the vapour pressure is so low that it takes a lot of breath to inhale so much that you reach unacceptable levels.
 
  • #3
stephenkohnle53
Yes I did google it and what people said varied quite a bit, if I were to put my hand in it for say 5 seconds for whatever reason would that hurt me if I have no injuries like I saw in a video. According to the video mercury struggles to diffuse into skin due to its weight, is that accurate?
 
  • #4
Borek
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When working in a well ventilated lab metallic mercury is not more dangerous than most other chemicals. Also, even if you are injured just a contact with mercury is not problematic (that's not the case with some of the mercury compounds). Thing I would be most afraid of is a prolonged exposition to vapors.
 
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Borek
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if I were to put my hand in it for say 5 seconds for whatever reason would that hurt me if I have no injuries like I saw in a video
My bet is that chances of getting poisoned this way are probably much lesser than getting killed by a car on a sidewalk.
 
  • #6
BvU
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If I were you I wouldn't do it, but for all practical purposes it is harmless. Open surfaces of mercury exist in antique barometers, etc. Risks associated are from prolonged exposure to vapours from numerous minuscule drops all over the place in cracks and such (from spills) in badly ventilated spaces (classrooms, hehe)
 
  • #7
stephenkohnle53
Yeah I am not gonna touch mercury or have any in the first place considering it still is not safe and I don't have a use for it. Thanks for answering my questions.
 
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The problem with muckin' about with liquid mercury is that the contaminated surface has a nasty tendency to form tiny drops & splatters, producing lots of toxic vapour...

I've the interesting knack of being able to smell mercury vapour at remarkably low concentrations. Smells / tastes like a blown fuse-wire, in fact. I used this knack to find where folk had dropped mercury thermometers into our labs' many sinks. That, of course, was the easy part. Then came the full safety mask-on, gloves etc, and tackling the sink, u-bend or bottle-trap with the mercury spillage kit...

IIRC, you can vapour-seal the surface of clean liquid mercury with a custom silicone oil. This was famously used to make a liquid mirror for astronomy. It is also used to 'float' some types of equipment to allow rumble-free rotation. Due care and triply-redundant ventilation, plus regular testing, PLEASE !!!
 
  • #9
anorlunda
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Here's the dark side. I'm so ancient that my science teacher in high school showed us how to play with it. He even encouraged us to try it at home and told us that we kids could buy it at the local drug store for $0.25 per ounce. He was right.

Who knows how many more neurons I might have if it weren't for that? o_O
 
  • #10
BvU
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On the up side: Hg is neurotoxic, not specifically allergenic, so as an asthma patient you don't expect any aggravations wrt non-asthma folks :rolleyes: .

Don't trust me -- I'm like Anorlunda: also played with the stuff at school.
 
  • #11
BillTre
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The most dangerous form of mercury is methylmercury since its can get into the body easily.
Significant sources on metallic mercury exposure include coal burning and volcanoes.
The most common form of methylmercury exposure is probably from eating food containing it (especially fish high up on the food chain.
 
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Just touching some mettallic mercury will not harm you.
However if you ate substances with mercury compounds in it that is poisonous,
This is because the mercury will displace other essential elements which you need,
 
  • #13
Borek
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Have you noticed how all those playing with the stuff as kids (yes, count me in) understand there is no immediate danger, but all those just told at school mercury is poisonous think it will eat them/dissolve them like acid dripping from a cut Alien?
 
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Have you noticed how all those playing with the stuff as kids (yes, count me in) understand there is no immediate danger, but all those just told at school mercury is poisonous think it will eat them/dissolve them like acid dripping from a cut Alien?
Mercury displacement relays (MDRs) manufactured by Durakool and MDI were quite popular as an alternative to electromagnetic contactors before solid-state power electronics came to the fore. Just used LibreOffice to open an ancient Lotus WK4 spreadsheet file from 1997 containing their weight in mercury.

Contactor pole weight
150 amp - 1.05 pound
60 amp - 0.46 pound
35 amp - 0.34 pound

An electrical cabinet equipped with twenty zones of 60 amp, 3 phase (3 pole) MDRs (or, about 27 pounds of mercury) was par for the course. Imagine the horror these students would experience!
 
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  • #15
BvU
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Power to the overhead gauze ceiling of the bumper cars at the fairground was switched on and off by dipping one foot long sharktooth-shaped iron steel plates in a bath of mercury. A sturdy box of a foot and a half each side. The metal sheets were mounted on the underside of the lid, which could be pulled up and lowered from the cashier booth with a rope over a few pulleys. ?:)
 
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  • #16
rbelli1
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Risks associated are from prolonged exposure to vapours from numerous minuscule drops all over the place in cracks and such (from spills) in badly ventilated spaces (classrooms, hehe)
So chasing it around the room with brooms after the old rubber nail with a mercury hammer trick was not a healthy activity? I thought exercise was good for you?

If we did that today they would condem the entire county.

BoB
 
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