Mercury Spill Clean-up

Oct 16, 2010

You never know what your day has in store for you when you have children, especially boys. Right now, several members of our family have colds so I have the "cold basket" out. It is filled with nasal sprays, chest rub, lozenges, earache drops, and a variety of...thermometers. I'm sure you can guess what happened from the title of my post.

While I was washing dishes, LJ found the basket and began asking what this and that were. I completely forgot about having a mercury thermometer in there (it seems to be more accurate than most of the digital ones I've tried). He tried to pull the cap off and broke off the end of the thermometer, shattering the glass and scattering tiny droplets of mercury all over the table, chair, floor, and himself, I'm sure. I've never had to deal with it before but I do know that mercury is hazardous. So I immediately grabbed up the baby, who was under the table, and sent everyone out of the kitchen. I stripped LJ's clothes and washed his hands. Papa Bear searched for instructions on cleaning up mercury while I searched for the glass and mercury droplets. When mercury "breaks", the droplets range in size and can be super tiny and difficult to find. Here is another site with detailed instructions on cleaning up mercury.

"It takes very little mercury in air to create unhealthy levels of vapor. Further, vacuuming any surface with mercury will make more vapor. Factors that affect the severity of risk from mercury in carpet or soft-surfaced items include the amount of mercury spilled, how much was recovered, the type of room and whether young children or pregnant women frequent the room." -Wisconsin Dept.of Health

It was easier to find the mercury on the wood table and chair. Unfortunately, we have carpet under our table and you can't vacuum this stuff up. I read that you can use packing tape to get it off the carpet but I can't find it at all. We are remodeling and were going to remove it anyway but it's going to have to come up today. I'm not taking any chances.

"Never use a broom or a vacuum on a mercury spill because it will only scatter the mercury droplets, making them harder to find and pick up." -Wisconsin Dept. of Health

Hopefully, my experience can help you be prepared, just in case you still have any old mercury thermometers around your house. When it first happens, shoo everyone out of the room and close the doors. Then, turn off any fans and your heating/cooling system and open windows to ventilate the room.

Here are a list of things you should have on hand:
  • Paper plate (for collecting mercury)
  • Latex or rubber gloves (good to have on hand for all sorts of reasons, just hide them from the kids)
  • Plastic zip baggies (for disposing of contaminated items)
  • Trash bags 
  • Tape (packing, duct, anything wide and sticky to pick up droplets, especially on carpet)
  • Medicine syringe or eye dropper (to pick up tiny droplets)
  • Index or playing cards (use to scoot droplets onto paper plate)
  • Paper towels
Wearing latex gloves, pick up glass pieces and scoot mercury beads onto paper plate using card or paper towels. After you've gotten all that you can find, wipe down the surfaces with a damp washcloth (that you won't miss) or paper towels. When you're finished collecting all the mercury, broken glass, and contaminated items, seal them all up in zip baggies, including any items you used to collect it and your gloves (pull from the wrist, turning inside out). I would double-bag it just in case the broken glass pokes through the bag. If you have more than one bag of contaminated items, collect them all in one trash bag. WASH YOUR HANDS! Make sure you label the bag "Mercury-Contaminated". Then contact your local waste management department and see if they have any special procedures for disposal.

Disclaimer: I am NOT an expert in hazardous materials or an OSHA or EPA employee, I just found this information on the internet and am sharing it with you. Please research on your own and consult a professional if you need help.


  1. my own sister(a nurse) had this happen several years ago and called the fire department--they brought the hazmet folks with them and took care of it. probably the safest way to go.

  2. It would be the safest way to go IF our fire dept. did that. I called and they didn't know how I should dispose of it. Several years ago, when we replaced our old thermostat (contains mercury), I called the sanitation dept. to ask about proper disposal and I was told to just throw it away.

  3. It's crazy that mercury is so harmful and yet it was put in vaccinations! Sorry you had to deal with this while having sick kiddos too. Thanks for the info.


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