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It’s Elemental- Mercury- Hg September 17, 2017

Posted by makingyourdashcount in Elements.
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For as toxic as it is, it’s amazing how many products (both professional and consumer) use mercury.  From therrmometers to barometers and scientific instruments like diffusion pumps, it is a relatively common material. Some advertising signs use mercury. And never throw a compact fluorescent light bulb in the trash, because it is likely that it contains mercury, as well!

It is the only metal that is not solid at room temperature, which accounts for those familiar blobs. It’s melting temperature is -38.83 °C (-37.894 °F, 234.32K) at atmospheric pressure.  Brrr.

Not found freely in nature, one gets it by condensing the vapor from cinnabar ore. 50% of the world’s supply comes from Italy and Spain.  The standard volume of mercury is measured in flask quantities with a weight of 34.47kg (76 lbs.) The cost of this quantity is about $150. A DOT approved container from Bethlehem Apparatus to transport it costs $900.

We have all heard stories of artists poisoning themselves with the mercury ingested while working with toxic paint. (van Gogh, for example) One mineral pigment, Cordierite, decomposes to metallic mercury and mercury chloride. And cinnabar, the ore used in mercury production, was used to make bright red vermillion. The friezes from Pompeii show the brilliance of these colors (Scenes of a Dionysiac Mystery Cult. Mural Frieze. 50 B.C.E. Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii.)

Everyone my age knows firsthand how totally cool mercury is. We played with it; really. I’m not sure where we got it, but we had globs that we coated coins with, as well as shuffled it hand to hand.  Now that would be call for statewide hazmat team intervention.

I’ve heard of entire schools being evacuated for one mercury thermometer spill, but there have been larger incidents.

2003 in Washington, D.C.

A student at Ballou High School took mercury from a science lab to sell to other students. It ended up everywhere. It was all over the school in classrooms, restrooms and cafeteria.  And it ended up in eleven houses!  The total cost to clean this up?  Over $1.5 million.

 

 

 

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