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Arnold

Mercury contamination

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A question for the scientists here. I know mercury is toxic to humans, and that the affect of a spill on the aluminium of an aircraft can result in destroying the machine by contaminating the aluminium. It seems that vapours are also given off which should not be inhaled. Clothes which have had mercury contact should be discarded.

The question I was asked but could not answer is this: a stainless steel thermos with a plastic screw in top, had hot water in it. Someone used a glass mercury thermometer to measure the temperature, and this resulted in the thermometer breaking into the thermos. The mercury was not emptied out till the next day. What is the expected effect of the mercury on the steel and plastic in regards to contamination?

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The question I was asked but could not answer is this: a stainless steel thermos with a plastic screw in top, had hot water in it. Someone used a glass mercury thermometer to measure the temperature, and this resulted in the thermometer breaking into the thermos. The mercury was not emptied out till the next day. What is the expected effect of the mercury on the steel and plastic in regards to contamination?

I'm not sure, but mercury is highly neurotoxic, so the cost of a new thermos is a small price to pay to avoid the risk.

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Buy a new thermos.

Just as an exercise in considering its effects without putting your health on the line, I'll write my thoughts on what they would likely be. I'm confident that the Mercury would no longer be present after you washed it off, since my brief research showed that it does not form an alloy, or amalgam, with Iron -- essentially, it doesn't react chemically. As to the plastic, which is even further out of my wheelhouse, I'm uncertain as to the effects. If the spill happened only in the bottom, then you're apparently just worried about the fumes from the Mercury contaminating the plastic, but the vapor pressure (the pressure at which the concentration of vapor in the air is at equilibrium with the liquid in the cup) is quite low -- about 1.2 micrometers Hg. For comparison, at room temperature, it's roughly 1,000 times less dense in air than is water. So the result is that relatively few atoms of Hg hit the walls even if they are reactive, which is itself dubious. However, if you spilled it directly on the lid, I don't know and don't have the time to pursue that possibility (and it would require some assumptions, like what kind of plastic, the degree of crystallinity, etc.). The rule of thumb is, unless you're sure that it's safe, don't take a risk on something you can afford to replace -- and I'm not sure.

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I'm confident that the Mercury would no longer be present after you washed it off, since my brief research showed that it does not form an alloy, or amalgam, with Iron -- essentially, it doesn't react chemically.

I take it back. What I said initially was true -- that it is not soluble in Iron under normal circumstances (that is, if they are both liquified, they will separate, or if they are solidified, they will separate but more slowly). But there is a special concept known as "Liquid metal embrittlement" which governs the behavior of solid metal in the presence of liquid metals -- a special case -- in which the Mercury may in fact chemically react with the grain boundaries of the Iron (grain boundaries are an irregularity constituting the plane between one regular arrangement of atoms and another, at a differing angle, which makes them have a higher than normal free energy, since their bonds are more heavily stressed). As a result, grain boundaries are an unusually attractive site for Mercury, and it may reside there beyond the washing.

I'm glad I was cautious in my initial recommendation :D

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Steel isn't simply iron, it is iron plus varying degrees of carbon. And beyond that, stainless steel is not steel. It also contains chromium, and possibly nickel and other metals.

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I'm confident that the Mercury would no longer be present after you washed it off, since my brief research showed that it does not form an alloy, or amalgam, with Iron -- essentially, it doesn't react chemically.

I take it back. What I said initially was true -- that it is not soluble in Iron under normal circumstances (that is, if they are both liquified, they will separate, or if they are solidified, they will separate but more slowly). But there is a special concept known as "Liquid metal embrittlement" which governs the behavior of solid metal in the presence of liquid metals -- a special case -- in which the Mercury may in fact chemically react with the grain boundaries of the Iron (grain boundaries are an irregularity constituting the plane between one regular arrangement of atoms and another, at a differing angle, which makes them have a higher than normal free energy, since their bonds are more heavily stressed). As a result, grain boundaries are an unusually attractive site for Mercury, and it may reside there beyond the washing.

I'm glad I was cautious in my initial recommendation :D

If you really want to have some fun, put some gold into some mercury, or put a few drops of mercury onto some gold. The gold will fall apart along the grain boundaries.

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Arnold, Thanks for asking this question! :D It led to my following up on rtg24's link (above) to the Wiki article on the subject of Mercury, which led to this tidbit:

Because of the high toxicity of mercury, both the mining of cinnabar and refining for mercury are hazardous and historic causes of mercury poisoning. In China, prison labor was used by a private mining company as recently as the 1950s to create new cinnabar mercury mines. Thousands of prisoners were used by the Luo Xi mining company to establish new tunnels.[29] In addition, worker health in functioning mines is at high risk. The European Union directive calling for compact fluorescent bulbs to be made mandatory by 2012 has encouraged China to re-open deadly cinnabar mines to obtain the mercury required for CFL bulb manufacture. As a result, new generations of Chinese, their livestock, and their crops are being poisoned, particularly in the southern cities of Foshan and Guangzhou, and in the Guizhou province in the southwest.[29]
It is interesting to contemplate that, beyond the issues of disposal people have brought up over the California decision to mandate the elimination of incandescent bulbs, in favor of these same CFLs, it turns out they are incentivizing the mining of a rare, expensive, and hazardous metal, which according to the article, had been decreasing in production and use over the past century, in order reduce our impact on that same environment.

All of this for the non-problem of "Anthropogenic Global Warming." Maybe you could call it "Iatrogenic[Physician-caused] Environmental Damage (IED)," since the self-appointed doctors of the environment are doing the worst damage. It's up there with the loss of life to malaria in Panama and other endemic areas after the elimination of DDT. The Environmental Keynsians are at it again, manipulating on a broad scale, wreaking havoc, and (sooner or later) blaming big business.

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Steel containers are used to transport mercury, so I doubt it does anything to that material.

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Mercury has a very low vapor pressure which is one of the reasons it can be used in thermometers. If it had a high vapor pressure, it would "push back" against the rising column and affect the measurement. So I wouldn't be too concerned about the amount in the broken thermometer, unless you're going to stand around sniffing it. Just clean it up. It's a problem for workers who are around the metal all day. You certainly don't want to ingest it, so throw out anything it came in contact with.

Mercury is not supposed to be thrown in the trash. It should be disposed of properly. If you track it around your house, then it is a problem. There is a lot of info on web searches.

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Arnold, Thanks for asking this question! :D It led to my following up on rtg24's link (above) to the Wiki article on the subject of Mercury, which led to this tidbit:
Because of the high toxicity of mercury, both the mining of cinnabar and refining for mercury are hazardous and historic causes of mercury poisoning. In China, prison labor was used by a private mining company as recently as the 1950s to create new cinnabar mercury mines. Thousands of prisoners were used by the Luo Xi mining company to establish new tunnels.[29] In addition, worker health in functioning mines is at high risk. The European Union directive calling for compact fluorescent bulbs to be made mandatory by 2012 has encouraged China to re-open deadly cinnabar mines to obtain the mercury required for CFL bulb manufacture. As a result, new generations of Chinese, their livestock, and their crops are being poisoned, particularly in the southern cities of Foshan and Guangzhou, and in the Guizhou province in the southwest.[29]
It is interesting to contemplate that, beyond the issues of disposal people have brought up over the California decision to mandate the elimination of incandescent bulbs, in favor of these same CFLs, it turns out they are incentivizing the mining of a rare, expensive, and hazardous metal, which according to the article, had been decreasing in production and use over the past century, in order reduce our impact on that same environment.

All of this for the non-problem of "Anthropogenic Global Warming." Maybe you could call it "Iatrogenic[Physician-caused] Environmental Damage (IED)," since the self-appointed doctors of the environment are doing the worst damage. It's up there with the loss of life to malaria in Panama and other endemic areas after the elimination of DDT. The Environmental Keynsians are at it again, manipulating on a broad scale, wreaking havoc, and (sooner or later) blaming big business.

I hope this isn't too far off the main topic, but what happens to the mercury in a CFL bulb when it breaks? Presuming that mercury is released, and is a neurotoxin (especially dangerous to children), won't this fact prevent lawmakers from mandating these bulbs? Does anyone know whether or not the implementation of plans to ban incandescent bulbs are still set?

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Mercury has a very low vapor pressure which is one of the reasons it can be used in thermometers. If it had a high vapor pressure, it would "push back" against the rising column and affect the measurement. So I wouldn't be too concerned about the amount in the broken thermometer, unless you're going to stand around sniffing it. Just clean it up. It's a problem for workers who are around the metal all day. You certainly don't want to ingest it, so throw out anything it came in contact with.

Mercury is not supposed to be thrown in the trash. It should be disposed of properly. If you track it around your house, then it is a problem. There is a lot of info on web searches.

Would you be happy to use this thermos for your family picnics then - that is the aim of the question? My own guess is that it is probably safe, but then again I don't have enough facts to be certain, even searching the web. I was aware of embrittlement of aluminium because of the damage that a mercury spill could do to the aircraft I flew.

In response to Alan, all I can say is how true and how sad and ironic. As the saying goes, the road to hell ....

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Steel containers are used to transport mercury, so I doubt it does anything to that material.

I'm not 100% sure on this, but I did consult with a metallurgist and he cautioned me about this. I'll tell you what -- this weekend I'll look up and see if I can find relevent research about it and I'll post it here.

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I hope this isn't too far off the main topic, but what happens to the mercury in a CFL bulb when it breaks? Presuming that mercury is released, and is a neurotoxin (especially dangerous to children), won't this fact prevent lawmakers from mandating these bulbs? Does anyone know whether or not the implementation of plans to ban incandescent bulbs are still set?

I'd also love to hear the answer to this question.

My initial hunch is that since the enviros value "nature" more than men, and in many cases would love to see humanity extinguished, this won't be too much of an issue for them. And lawmakers listen to enviros in order to get votes, as the viros are more popular these days, so chances are incandescent light bulbs are still going to go. As they already have in France (the lamp on my right takes 4 seconds to switch on, let alone get to full power - that takes 3 minutes).

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I'll tell you what -- this weekend I'll look up and see if I can find relevent research about it and I'll post it here.

I wanted to let any interested parties know that I was sick this weekend, and now I'm swamped at work. I'll still post it here when I get the time.

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It is interesting to contemplate that, beyond the issues of disposal people have brought up over the California decision to mandate the elimination of incandescent bulbs, in favor of these same CFLs, it turns out they are incentivizing the mining of a rare, expensive, and hazardous metal, which according to the article, had been decreasing in production and use over the past century, in order reduce our impact on that same environment. [...]

The legislators are somewhat slow to understand the technology. LEDs, that is, light emitting diodes, are far more efficient than FLs and CFLs. LEDs will be replacing FLs in nearly every FL application, including lighting for office buildings, factories, streets, illuminated signs, vehicles, and houses. One of the leaders in the LED industry is CREE, [CREE] Click here!

Don't use the old propaganda; for example, the advocates will still have one losing 65 year old fictional armies of Americans invading the Japanese home islands in order to have their way. Current propaganda stresses the making of diesel fuels from biomass [soy, corn, seeds, nuts], and energy from wind, and sea, for example, when the use of algae to make oil from CO2 is far more efficient. The US govt. is currently downplaying algae-based fuels to satiate the special interest groups. All of the main oil refining/distributing companies currently have investment in algae oil development. One of the several players that has key patents is Origin Oil Inc. [OOIL]

Click here!. See their videos.

LEDs are becoming commonplace. The USA will be producing an amount of Algae-based fuel equal to petroleum fuels by 2030.

Inventor

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I hope this isn't too far off the main topic, but what happens to the mercury in a CFL bulb when it breaks? Presuming that mercury is released, and is a neurotoxin (especially dangerous to children), won't this fact prevent lawmakers from mandating these bulbs? Does anyone know whether or not the implementation of plans to ban incandescent bulbs are still set?

Many would react to breaking one of the CFL bulbs by vacuuming it up. That's probably the worst thing you could do, short of licking it up.

Mercury is horrible neurotoxin, yet for some strange reason we (as a society) welcome it into our lives. We're not like that with lead. Strange.

LEDs are the answer here, as Inventor points out.

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