Feb. 28th, 2013

tanarill: (Science!)
Not the rock genre. Literally heavy metal, which in this case, is mercury.

Mostly, given that I typically never need to heat something to more than 95C, and considering that plain alcohol thermometers go to 110C, I use those. But we still have some mercury thermometers floating around the lab, a relic of the days when we did organic synthesis and used hot oil baths. Sometimes we find them in odd places, and carefully remove them to the Thermometer Drawer.

Sometimes we find them broken next to a centrifuge.

Okay, okay, that only happened yesterday. But I nearly jumped out of my skin when I went to pick it up and realized it was not in one piece and was dripping mercury. It's quite likely that it was there to measure the temperature of the centrifuge, but that the vibrations cause it to fall to the ground and, well, glass is not noticeably bouncy.

Kota, who is my labmate, freaked out. So, for all and sundry, I wish to make this point Known: like all heavy metal poisoning, a fair amount of mercury has to be inside your body to mess you up. If you were stupid and drank it, you could conceivably kill yourself that way in a day. Provided you are not stupid and the mercury is getting into your body when you breathe in the miniscule amount of aerosolized mercury from a spill*, it will take years to poison you. And years are a thing this did not have, because as soon as I realized what it was, I called our Haz-mat guys to come deal with it.

Which they did. They were not even in Haz-mat suits. They just swept up the glass bits and used "absorbent sheets," which are basically paper towels, to wick up the liquid. So basically this was the least interesting semi-hazardous material spill ever. Which is a good thing.

*Mercury, like every other liquid, can evaporate into a gas. It does not do so very much, but constant exposure to mercury fumes (they used the metal to help make felt) led to many hat-makers getting poisoned, losing a bunch of neurons, and then going apparently crazy - thus the mad hatter.

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