ABC of Safety in the Biological Sciences




Colloidal mercury, metallic mercury, quick silver inorganic mercury.
Highly toxic.
Do not touch spilled material.
Avoid skin contact.
Avoid inhalation.
Keep away from heat or naked flames.
Keep away from oxidising agents.
Silver white, heavy, mobile, liquid metal at room temperature. Slight fire and explosion hazard when exposed to heat or a naked flame.
Is an irritant to skin, eyes, respiratory tract and mucous membranes. It is also a skin and pulmonary sensitiser and toxic to the kidneys and central nervous system, sometimes with fatal consequences. Acute exposure may cause eye irritation with prolonged exposure causing visual disturbances. Mercury is absorbed through the skin with localised reddening and irritation. Sensitisation dermatitis may occur. Inhalation of mercury vapour especially in high concentrations can cause almost immediate dyspnoea, cough, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomatitis, salivation and metallic taste. If the patient is removed from the contamination the symptoms may resolve or may progress to include necrotising bronchiolitis, pneumonitis, pulmonary oedema and pneumothorax. Acidosis and renal damage with renal failure may occur. Ingestion of metallic mercury generally shows no effect.
Skin ­ remove contaminated clothes and shoes immediately. Wash the affected area with soap or mild detergent and large amounts of water until all evidence of the chemical has been removed (approximately 15 minutes). Seek medical advice.
Eyes ­ immediately wash the affected eye with large amounts of water until all evidence of the chemical has been removed (approximately 15 minutes). Seek medical advice.
Inhalation ­ remove the patient to fresh air immediately. If breathing has stopped apply artificial respiration. Administer oxygen if necessary and keep warm and allow to rest. Seek immediate medical attention.
Ingestion ­ if the victim is conscious and not convulsive give two to four glasses of water and induce vomiting by touching a finger to the back of the throat. Place in a sitting position with the head lower than the hips. Keep the patient warm and rest. Seek immediate medical attention.
Mercury is incompatible with:
Ammonia ­ violent reaction.
Acetylinic compounds ­ violent reaction.
Boron ­ violent reaction.
Di iodiophosphide ­ violent reaction.
Ethylene oxide ­ violent reaction.
Methyl azide ­ violent reaction.
Methylsilane ­ violent reaction.
Other metals ­ violent reaction.
Oxygen ­ violent reaction.
Nitric acid ­ violent reaction.
Tetracarbonylnickel - violent reaction
Nitromethane ­ violent reaction.
Oxidising agents ­ violent reaction.
Silver perchlorate ­ violent reaction.
Store in a cool, dry atmosphere away from strong oxidising agents and incompatible substances.
Use a fume hood that will keep the level of exposure below the recommended limits of exposure, ie. 0.1 mg/m3 OSHA, ACGIH and TWA; 0.05 mg/m3 NIOSH. Above 1 mg/m3 a respirator is recommended. Exposure above 5 mg/m3 a self­contained breathing apparatus is recommended. Wear protective clothing to avoid inhalation and skin contact. A long sleeved laboratory coat or gown, rubber gloves, safety goggles and a face mask as a minimum standard.
The toxicity of mercury is such that the element and its compounds should not be allowed to contaminate air or water.
Rubber gloves, laboratory coat and self contained breathing apparatus.
Collect all droplets and pools immediately using a suction pump and an aspirator bottle, with a long capillary tube. Cover fine droplets in non accessible cracks, with calcium polysulphide and excess sulphur. Combine all contaminated mercury in a tightly stoppered bottle. Hold it for purification or sale.
Compounds: dissolve all water soluble contaminated compounds. Convert other contaminated compounds to the soluble nitrates. Adjust the acidity and precipitate as mercuric sulphide. Wash and dry the precipitate.


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