What should I do if mercury spills in my house?
Not all spills are equal.
When hazardous materials like mercury spill inside your home, it’s important to take action immediately, officials say.
Although mercury spills in the home are relatively uncommon, the toxic metal itself is not. Mercury lurks inside thermometers, thermostats, barometers, clocks, light fixtures and CFL bulbs. These items have the potential to break open and cause a variety of health concerns.
Spills from larger objects, such as barometers and clocks, can make it necessary to call in a professional, although homeowners can often remediate smaller spills.
“Mercury is to be handled with extreme caution,” says Fernando Reynoso, owner of highly rated Berguss Dry Carpet Cleaning in Coppell, Texas, which has experience cleaning up mercury. “A professional should be called for such a spill. Not all carpet cleaners or cleaning people are qualified to clean this. The simple act of vacuuming will spread the mercury and contaminate more areas. So much caution is needed, and avoidance is critical as well.”
Mercury can cause a variety of health problems when fumes get in the air, including respiratory and nervous system damage. Pregnant women and children are most at risk.
What to do after a spill
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says homeowners can clean mercury on their own if the spill is less than what is inside a typical thermometer. Check out the EPA's website for step-by-step tips to clean mercury. Before getting started, make sure to clear the house of people and animals, and open windows and doors.
The EPA says it’s easy to clean mercury from wood, linoleum, tile and other smooth surfaces. However, if mercury spills on carpet or other absorbent surfaces, the EPA warns against using a vacuum because it can cause the mercury particles to go airborne. Instead, the EPA recommends cutting out the carpet or other materials and properly disposing them.
Homeowners who don’t feel comfortable cleaning mercury can hire a biohazard remediation contractor or environmental service company to clean the spill.
If the mercury spill is one pound or more, the EPA states it’s mandatory to call the EPA’s National Response Center (NRC). The EPA responds to many large mercury spills, including spills that occur inside schools, residential homes and businesses.
Hiring a contractor to clean mercury
Find a company that not only deals with hazardous waste, but has experience cleaning up mercury. Inquire about their process and what kind of credentials they have. Ask if they use a mercury vapor analyzer, a tool that detects even trace amounts of mercury.
For more information, please visit the Angie's List Guide to Biohazard Remediation.