When mercury comes into contact with the air, mercury can vaporize at room temperature. The vapor is odorless, colorless and is easily inhaled by those present.
What is the risk of exposure to mercury?
Mercury is a neurotoxin. Very young children and fetuses carried by pregnant women are most at risk of harm due to mercury vapor. Mercury's toxic effects can be passed from the mother to the fetus and can cause brain damage, mental retardation, incoordination, blindness, seizures and inability to speak. Children exposed to mercury may develop physical, mental or behavioral disorders, kidney damage and disorders of the digestive system.
For anyone, short-term mercury exposure can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and skin rashes.
Long-term exposure can cause brain damage, memory loss, tremors, numbness in the fingers and toes, mood changes and kidney damage. Spilled mercury and a heat source can produce high concentrations of mercury vapor. Short-term exposure to these extremely high vapor levels can cause death.
If spilled in the house, isolate the room by closing doors and windows, stop fans, block cold air return registers and call your local fire department for assistance.
What should never be done...
Never use a broom to sweep up mercury.
Never wash mercury contaminated clothes in a washing machine.
Never use an ordinary vacuum to clean up mercury.
Never walk around if your shoes may be contaminated with mercury.