What To Do if the Thermometer is Broken: Important Safety Rules

Mercury thermometers are banned in many countries around the world because of the health hazards of mercury. Each owner needs to know what to do if the thermometer breaks because it can happen to anyone.

How dangerous is mercury

Mercury is a volatile metal that begins to evaporate quickly at room temperature outside the container. Mercury fumes enter the lungs and accumulate in the body. If the mercury is not removed and disposed of, the metal slowly accumulates in the body and causes poisoning.

Animals and small children can also swallow balls of mercury out of interest. This is not as dangerous as breathing mercury vapor, since the metal is almost never absorbed from the digestive tract and is excreted in the feces. But it is still better to avoid it.

The symptoms of mercury poisoning are most often: headache, weakness, loss of appetite, a taste of metal in the mouth, nausea and vomiting, and trembling in the hands. If mercury accumulates in large quantities, there can be extensive disruption of all internal organs.

What to do if the thermometer broke – the first actions

  1. First of all, remove all animals and children from the room where the thermometer broke.
  2. Close the doors to other rooms to prevent mercury from getting there.
  3. Open windows to make the room cooler – mercury evaporates faster in the warmth. But don’t allow a draft, so that the mercury spheres don’t spread around the room.
  4. Prepare a solution – 1 liter of water, 40 grams of grated soap, and 30 grams of soda. Soak a rag in the solution and put it around the place where the thermometer broke. Wipe your shoes on the cloth to avoid spreading mercury around the house.
  5. Wear gloves on your hands and a disposable mask on your face.

How to properly collect mercury

You will see many shiny gray balls in the area where the thermometer broke. Such balls collect mercury in the open air. To avoid metal poisoning, the balls should be collected in a jar and disposed of properly.

Take a 0.5-1 liter jar and pour water at the bottom. Put the broken thermometer and mercury in it. You can collect the mercury with a pipette or tape. You can also sweep the mercury with a brush or absorbent cotton onto paper, and shake off the paper into a jar.

Never pick up mercury with a broom, vacuum cleaner, or brush. This will not only ruin the thing forever, but it will spread the mercury all over the floor.

Pick up the large drops of mercury first, then look around. Small balls of mercury can roll under furniture or on the carpet. This mercury also needs to be collected. Shine a flashlight around to find all the mercury – the metal will shine brightly.

If the mercury got on any fabric or carpet – unfortunately, that item or part of the carpet will have to be disposed of along with the mercury.

How to dispose of a broken thermometer and mercury

Call the emergency service (number 112), or the nearest sanitary and epidemiological service and tell them that you have a broken thermometer. In Kyiv, you can call the rescue service number 430-37-13.

A mercerization team will be sent to your home. The staff will pick up the mercury jar and any poisoned areas, and they will help further treat the area where the thermometer broke.

Treating the room after a broken thermometer

After cleaning, ventilate the room and wash your shoes and floor with a soap and soda solution. Also, take care of yourself: take a shower, brush your teeth, and rinse your mouth with a baking soda solution.

For a week after the incident, drink more fluids and ventilate the room regularly. This will help the mercury vapors evaporate if you do not pick up all the metal.

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Written by Emma Miller

I am a registered dietitian nutritionist and own a private nutrition practice, where I provide one-on-one nutritional counseling to patients. I specialize in chronic disease prevention/ management, vegan/ vegetarian nutrition, pre-natal/ postpartum nutrition, wellness coaching, medical nutrition therapy, and weight management.

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