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Mercury Hazards and Spill Response Reminder

Contact: Angela Minicuci (517) 241-2112

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 14, 2011

LANSING - Last week, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) responded to a mercury spill at a high school in Berrien County. While the incident has been addressed and student safety ensured, MDCH would like to remind parents and children about the dangers of mercury poisoning.

Elemental (liquid) mercury gives off vapors that cannot be seen, but can be inhaled. Breathing in too much mercury vapor over a long period of time can be harmful to people's central nervous system and kidneys. Children and pregnant women are most at risk of the harmful effects of breathing mercury vapors.

Symptoms of too much exposure to mercury vapor include memory loss, irritability, tremors, and increases in blood pressure and heart rate. Children who are exposed to mercury vapor may also develop learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. While many adults may have played with mercury as a child, it is now recommended that no one handle the liquid metal or breathe mercury vapor.

Many items contain mercury such as old thermometers, barometers, and some antiques. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) contain a very small amount of mercury, but not enough to make someone sick if the bulb breaks. Mercury can stick to shoes, carpet, and the inside of vacuum cleaners. Therefore, MDCH recommends cleaning up any mercury spill quickly using the right methods:

  1. Do not vacuum or sweep up the spill. 
  2. Get all people and pets out of the room. 
  3. Cover the spill area with plastic.
  4. Close all air returns, vents, and registers in the room.
  5. Open all windows and doors which lead outside.
  6. Close all doors to other rooms that lead to the rest of the home.
  7. Call your health department. From there, you can find out if the spill can be cleaned up on your own or if you'll require assistance.

The best way to avoid a mercury spill is to get mercury out of your home or business before a spill happens. Household Hazardous Waste and Clean Sweep sites are good places to recycle mercury. More information about mercury, cleanup instructions and where to recycle mercury can be found at www.michigan.gov/mercury.

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