"Understanding Your Home" by Building Inspector Mark Visser
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Mercury Thermometer
Many mercury thermometers are still widely used in meteorology, however in other usage they are becoming increasingly rare, as many countries have banned them outright from medical use. The typical "fever thermometer" contains between 0.5 to 3 g. of mercury.

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Mercury
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Mercury thermometer. Mercury in thermostat.

WHAT IS MERCURY?

Mercury occurs naturally in the environment throughout the world as cinnabar (mercuric sulfide), source of the red pigment vermilion. It is mostly obtained by reduction from cinnabar. Sometimes known as quicksilver, it is a heavy metal, like lead.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF MERCURY HEALTH?
Mercury emissions in the air can come from both natural and man-made sources. Utility power plants (mainly coal-fired) are the largest man-made source, because mercury that naturally exists in coal is released into the air when coal is burned to make electricity.
Mercury can affect the brain, spinal cord, kidneys, digestive system, and liver. It stays around for a long time, so if it is ingested or inhaled it accumulates in the body. Breathing in its invisible vapors is the most common and most dangerous way people are exposed to mercury.

WHAT ARE THE SOURCES OF MERCURY IN THE HOME?
Fluorescent light bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. There is also mercury in switches, thermostats and silent wall switches.




Thermostat with mercury

WHAT NEVER TO DO WITH A MERCURY SPILL
Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury. Vacuuming the mercury heats it and turns it into a toxic gas that is then inhaled. Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them. Never pour mercury down a drain. Never wash clothing if you broke a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) so that broken glass and other material from the bulb, including mercury-containing powder, came into contact with your clothing.
WHAT TO DO IF SOMETHING WITH MERCURY BREAKS
- Ventilate. Leave the room for 15 minutes with the windows open and A/C or heating system off.
- Clean up large pieces. Use stiff piece of cardboard or disposable gloves to pick up and seal large pieces in a plastic bag.
- Clean up liquid/powder mercury and small fragments. Use wet wipes if the surface can be cleaned, or sticky tape if the area is carpeted. If the spill on carpet is substantial the carpet should be removed and properly disposed.
- Wash hands.
- Place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container for the next normal trash pickup or take it to a hazardous material drop off centre.
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