Safety When Working With Mercury


Mercury is an elemental compound found in a variety of electronic devices, including tilt switches and thermometers. While mercury is a metal alloy, it acts like a liquid when in its physical state. Although its use today has been reduced due to safety concerns and more efficient alternatives being put into practice, it is still a viable metal that serves a number of important purposes in science and technology.

The Use Of Mercury In Tilt Switches

Tilt switches have used mercury as a signaling device for decades. In the classic tilt switch design, mercury is used to trigger a mechanism by physically tilting a container with mercury inside. Once a particular angle has been achieved, mercury completes or breaks a circuit, thereby turning the switch on or off. Today, you can contact Select Controls to order tilt switches if you’re looking for an online tilt switch manufacturer that provides mercury-free solutions. The company offers both tilt trim switch and adjustable tilt switch designs that contain no mercury for safer handling and less worry.

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The Potential Dangers Of Mercury

Although mercury is a naturally occurring element, it carries potential hazards when handled in some situations. Exposure to mercury can lead to kidney dysfunction and disease, and mercury is known to cause damage to the nervous system. Nervous system hazards often come about due to the inhalation of mercury vapors, while kidney dysfunction can be the result of physically handling mercury.

Some effects of mercury poisoning may include the development of tremors, headaches and muscle weakness. The toxic effects of mercury were not well known until the mid 1900s, leading to outbreaks of disease in the 1950s and 1960s across the world.

Can Mercury Be Handled Safely?

If you handle mercury, you’re encouraged to wear proper safety equipment. To protect the skin, this means wearing protective gloves, long sleeves and long pants. The respiratory system is particularly vulnerable to mercury poisoning, so wearing a respirator is encouraged when handling mercury in a closed environment.

Care should also be exercised when heating mercury. High temperatures exacerbate the vapor conversion of mercury, potentially accelerating its ability to affect the nervous system. Mercury-containing thermometers should not be used in ovens due to the risk of breakage.

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Disposing Of Mercury

If you need to dispose of mercury or a device containing mercury, you should research the local and state disposal laws and regulations in your region. Most states have specific guidance regarding the proper disposal of mercury. In some cases, you may need to take these items to a designated disposal site. In others, you may need to contact state regulators to arrange for pickup of large quantities of mercury for safe disposal.

In almost all cases, you should avoid disposing of mercury directly into a landfill. Because of the liquid state of mercury as well as its potential to convert into vapor, disposal in a landfill could possibly contaminate ground water and nearby air. In addition, mercury can react dangerously to other metals, including copper, so the potential exists for a dangerous interaction if these metals are also mixed in with mercury at a landfill.

Seeking Medical Attention After Mercury Exposure

If you find that you have been exposed to mercury, even for a short period of time, you’re encouraged to speak with a doctor. The effects of mercury poisoning may not be apparent immediately, and repeated exposure to mercury over time can allow toxicity to build up inside of your body. This is why you may need to have your blood tested after exposure to mercury to check for unsafe levels of toxic material. If you experience any type of respiratory distress when handling mercury, immediately seek medical attention and an open-air space that is well-ventilated.