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Mercury Spills

Mercury Spills

Follow this advice to avoid toxicity resulting from incorrect clean up of small mercury spills from mercury thermometers. For larger spills, evacuate the area and contact your local Poisons Center, Fire Service or health authority for further advice.

For advice on how to clean up a broken energy-efficient lightbulb, click here, or for the government guidelines on dealing with other mercury spills, click here.

How Should I Clean Up A Mercury Spill?


It is important to clean up mercury as thoroughly as possible, especially in confined areas. Inadequate cleanup may allow ongoing release of mercury vapor, and potentially, chronic toxicity to occur. Small children crawling on the floor are most at risk, as mercury vapour is heavier than air.

  • Do NOT vacuum the mercury
  • Evacuate the area
  • Remove all jewellery, especially gold rings. Mercury bonds with gold and can cause jewellery to permanently discolour

If spilled on a smooth surface (linoleum, smooth concrete, floorboards):
  • Using a torch in a darkened room can help show up any droplets
  • For large droplets, use two pieces of paper/card or a squeegee (rubber window cleaner) with slow sweeping motions to scoop the mercury together into one ball (thoroughly wash the squeegee afterwards). Alternatively, use a small syringe or eye dropper to suck up the mercury droplets.
  • Smaller beads of mercury can be picked up using duct tape or use a paintbrush with shaving cream to dot the affected areas the mercury will attach to the foam.
  • Place the collected mercury, glass, paper towels, cardboard, eye droppers, syringes, duct tape, or paintbrushes in plastic plastic ziplock bags and dispose of in accordance with your local authority.
  • If the beads are too small to see, you can sprinkle powdered sulfur over the area to locate them. The sulfur will change from yellow to brown. The mercury and sulfur should then be cleaned up using the above techniques. In most cases this step will not be required.

If spilled carpets, curtains, upholstery or other absorbent surfaces):
  • Contaminated items should be discarded in accordance with local authority policy. Only the contaminated portion of the carpet needs to be cut and removed.
  • Any clothing that is contaminated by mercury should also be disposed of, as washing may contaminate washing machines or dryers.

Should I Vacuum The Mercury?


You should never vacuum mercury. This can cause the mercury to heat, and form toxic vapour, or it can aerosolise the droplets, making it easy to breathe in. If you have vacuumed mercury, you will need to throw away the filter, bag and tubing from your vacuum cleaner. If this is not possible, the vacuum cleaner must be replaced.



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University of Otago NZ National Poisons Centre


Last updated 19/03/2013



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