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Safety Tips | Workplace exposure

Mercury spills

August 26, 2013

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Mercury can be found in a variety of products, including barometers, blood pressure measurers, batteries and some types of lightbulbs. The Illinois Department of Public Health states that workers can be exposed to mercury through breathing vapors, direct skin contact, or by eating food or drinking water contaminated with mercury. Brief exposure to high levels of mercury can result in immediate side effects, including loss of appetite, fatigue and insomnia. Other symptoms such as nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, eye irritation, weight loss, skin rashes and muscle tremors also may occur, depending on the length of exposure. Most symptoms dissipate after exposure stops, but it can take months to completely eliminate mercury from the body, and effects on the brain and nervous system can be permanent, IDPH warns.

If a mercury spill occurs, IDPH recommends:

  • Open windows and doors in the area of the spill to allow for ventilation.
  • Put any clothing believed to be exposed to mercury in a sealed plastic bag and place it in the trash.
  • Do not use a shop vacuum to clean up the spill because this will only spread the mercury vapors, increasing contamination and the chance of exposure.
  • Collect small amounts of mercury with adhesive tape or an eye dropper and store it in a sealed plastic container until disposal.
  • After all visible mercury has been collected, use a mercury cleanup kit to clean the spill area. Wash the area with a detergent solution and rinse with water.

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