Sites: GlobalSpec.com | GlobalSpec Electronics | CR4 | Electronics360
Login | Register
The Engineer's Place for News and Discussion®


The Engineer's Notebook

The Engineer's Notebook is a shared blog for entries that don't fit into a specific CR4 blog. Topics may range from grammar to physics and could be research or or an individual's thoughts - like you'd jot down in a well-used notebook.

Previous in Blog: "Magical" Christmas Origins   Next in Blog: Bricoleur or Engineer or ...???
Close

Comments Format:






Close

Subscribe to Discussion:

CR4 allows you to "subscribe" to a discussion
so that you can be notified of new comments to
the discussion via email.

Close

Rating Vote:







35 comments

The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

Posted December 19, 2008 11:23 AM by Steve Melito

Where would a 14-year old boy acquire enough liquid mercury to close down his school, send his younger sister to the hospital, and condemn his family's home? The local media reports that the elemental mercury came from an old farm, but law enforcement remains tight-lipped. Fortunately, CR4ers have had plenty to say!

In Part 1 of this series, we began a spirited debate about whether state and local officials overreacted to a mercury spill on the floor of the Silvio O. Conte Middle School in North Adams, Massachusetts. In Part 2, we learned more about elemental mercury from Joseph M. Jammallo, a member of the environmental consulting firm that cleaned up the spill; and from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In Part 3, we learned what another government entity, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), says about mercury as both an airborne pollutant and a toxin in the tissues of fish and shellfish.

Down on the Farm

So why would liquid mercury be found on a farm? According one CR4 guru, farmers used to mix the substance with sulfur and use it to fumigate barns. But what if the mercury in question didn't have agricultural origins, as the boy who spilled it allegedly told police? Some CR4ers have noted that this liquid mercury could have come from a dentist's office, a miner's shack, or the chemistry laboratory in a public school. Maybe the teenager even accumulated enough mercury-wetted switches or mercury thermometers to yield a half-dollar sized amount.

Two Theories

While researching and writing this series, I've entertained two theories about the liquid mercury's ultimate origins. The first is that the substance was taken from an old General Electric building in Pittsfield, or from the Sprague Electric Company in North Adams. I'm not about to call anyone a thief, but maybe the old farmer had a relative who worked in a factory and figured that no one would miss a bit of mercury. This theory isn't nearly as entertaining as that old Johnny Cash song, "One Piece at a Time," but they never built cars in Berkshire County either.

So what's my second theory? It's once I've since dismissed, but am still willing to share. What if the boy extracted the liquid mercury from compact fluorescent light bulbs? The CFL is billed as a weapon in the war against global warming / climate change (pick the term that suits your political preference), but CFLs contain mercury. According to Energy Star, a program of the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), "CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing – an average of 4 milligrams – about the amount that would cover the tip of a ballpoint pen."

It would take a whole lot of light bulbs to shut down a middle school, sicken a child, and condemn a family home.

But what do you think?

Resource:

http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/promotions/change_light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf

---------------------------

Steve Melito

Reply

Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be "almost" Good Answers:

Check out these comments that don't yet have enough votes to be "official" good answers and, if you agree with them, rate them!
Guru
United States - Member - New Member Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 1163
Good Answers: 37
#1

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/19/2008 3:02 PM

I don't believe a boy would be patient enough to collect a whole bunch of bulbs, no offense. I do believe that he had help getting this mercury. It isn't far fetched that some boy found an old thermometer in his attic and gave it to his friend. I just hope that the boys punishment doesn't outweigh his crime.

Reply
Power-User
Hobbies - HAM Radio - New Member

Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: Houston, Texas
Posts: 250
Good Answers: 5
#2

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/19/2008 5:42 PM

He could have gotten that much or more from a few old White Rogers type temperature switch or temperature sensor bulbs, a sphygmomanometer or a barometer. These once very common items are still around and a whole bunch of them still have their mercury.

Yes, mercury is nasty stuff but I think the environmentalists doth protest far, far too much! We are probably in more danger from the reaction products of the fluoride and chlorine in city water than the amount of mercury one kid might have scattered in a short life of environmental carelessness.

Coating a penny with mercury used to be a common class room demonstration. Now the school admins. shut down the building and call out the hazmat team to dispose of a few glistening drops.

Sheesh!
TT3

__________________
If the software can detect, compensate, avoid, or correct an anomalous condition in the system, it is, by definition, a software problem-regardless of the root cause. In the long run, for most classes of problems, it is cheaper to fix it in the SW
Reply
Guru

Join Date: May 2006
Location: Placerville, CA (38° 45N, 120° 47'W)
Posts: 3040
Good Answers: 113
#10
In reply to #2

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/20/2008 12:50 PM

I couldn't find it quickly to take a picture, but somewhere in my garage I have a small box or drawer full of mercury switches saved from thermostats etc. One of the switch elements is about 1/2" diameter and 1-1/2" long, and easily contains enough mercury to supply the kid for his unfortunate incident.

I do live in the Gold country, and somewhere around 30-40 years ago, when I was teaching physics, a student brought in a flask he had found that contained between 20 and 30 pounds of liquid mercury! We normally kept a 5lb bottle on hand, with a layer of water on top to reduce evaporation/oxidization,

I agree with several others that the dangers are vastly overrated. We spilled liquid mercury many times in my classroom, and I got rather expert at picking it up with two sheets of paper. There were always a few little tiny droplets in the cracks in the linoleum. If I recall correctly, we sprinkled sulphur powder on the cracks (to convert the mercury to cinnabar) and forgot about it...

As at least a couple of others have said or implied, I'm still here, and not aware of any problems that could be attributed to the mercury. Most of my students spent an hour a day for one year in that classroom. I spent the entire day there for 26 years... There is no way that students walking down a contaminated hallway are going to have enough exposure to cause a problem. I'm no MD, but I'm pretty sure the same can be said of the kid's sister - any problem she had was either unrelated to the mercury, or was psychosomatic.

__________________
Teaching is a great experience, but there is no better teacher than experience.
Reply
Guru
United Kingdom - Member - Not a New Member Hobbies - Musician - New Member Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: May 2006
Location: Reading, Berkshire, UK. Going under cover.
Posts: 8324
Good Answers: 353
#11
In reply to #10

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/20/2008 1:08 PM

" ... I'm pretty sure the same can be said of the kid's sister - any problem she had was either unrelated to the mercury, or was psychosomatic ... "

Agreed!

__________________
"Love justice, you who rule the world" - Dante Alighieri
Reply
Guru
Popular Science - Evolution - New Member

Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: India-Chennai.
Posts: 655
Good Answers: 26
#13
In reply to #10

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/20/2008 1:55 PM

"As at least a couple of others have said or implied, I'm still here, and not aware of any problems that could be attributed to the mercury."

You are very right. I too think the fear of Mercury is more of psychosomatic than real.

I worked for Chlor-Alkaly plant for 10 years, some 25 years back. This used tons of mercury as catalist. Coulple of guys job was only to collect the spilled Mecury and bottle them back for reuse. Daily each would collect, by physical handaling, some about 10 bottles, each waighing about 30 kg. Last year I saw one of them very healthy at his nineties. Of them, 3 are still living and two died on ageing at eighties.

__________________
A picture worth thousand words: needless to say if it is animated.
Reply
Anonymous Poster
#16
In reply to #2

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/21/2008 11:36 AM

Good point. When I worked in Chem Labs in college, I used to clean mercury by the liter for days on end. Remember the old thermostats that had a goodly puddle of mercury in them? The old experiments with nitrogen triiodide and mercury fulminate? The U-864 U Boat that was sunk around 1944 or '45, shortly after leaving Europe for Japan, carried flasks of mercury as ballast (for ammunition manufacture) with something like 62 metric tons of mercury. Now that the flasks have decayed, the seabed around that sinking are contaminated with huge concentrations of mercury and some methyl mercury. Just one source of our "mercury contamination of sealife".

Reply
Guru
United Kingdom - Member - Not a New Member Hobbies - Musician - New Member Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: May 2006
Location: Reading, Berkshire, UK. Going under cover.
Posts: 8324
Good Answers: 353
#3

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/19/2008 6:43 PM

My maternal Grandad ran a construction company. When I was about 4 to 6 (mid-late 60's), I used to play with some mercury he kept in a screw-top jar. I'd say there was about 100ml. I'd pour some into a big flat dish, & mess around with it, watching how it split into globules when I poked it with my finger, & reformed into one shiny glob. I usually managed to spill a bit on the floor while returning it to the jar - then I could chase it round the floor, & splat the recalcitrant blobs by stepping on them.

Don't know why he had it - in later years I speculated that it could be something to do with levelling. He's long since beyond asking, and neither of my parents can help.

As you may have noticed, I'm still here.

__________________
"Love justice, you who rule the world" - Dante Alighieri
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: OH USA
Posts: 537
Good Answers: 24
#8
In reply to #3

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/20/2008 10:47 AM

I suspect mason jars containing significant quantities of mercury can still be found in the basements of older homes, along with a lot of other potentially harmful stuff.

Much of it was probably obtained from discarded mercury thermometers, manometers and other instruments.

I also recall experimenting with mercury in school science labs and classrooms and playing around with it outside of class, shining coins, rolling it around, etc. when I was young. That was more years ago than I care to think about and I'm also still around.

Reply
Power-User

Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Durban, South Africa
Posts: 373
Good Answers: 7
#4

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/20/2008 4:29 AM

Way back in my school days we had a barometer which was a glass tube about 1/4 inch tube and 32 inches high filled with mercury metal (those were the measures used then & I have a mental block) and bar for a flask in the lab this was the largest quantity in common use that I have seen. Maybe our young wizkid found one of these.

I understand that the only place mercury appeared in these quantities as metal could be in treatment of furs eg beaver pelts - (reason for the Mad Hatter) and in the extraction of gold as amalgam.

Otherwise beats me! But maybe we should keep looking

__________________
You can always tell the pioneers - they are the ones with arrows in their backs.
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 11407
Good Answers: 92
#5

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/20/2008 4:48 AM

Doesn't sound very likely, but wasn't there some kafuffle over a kid who built some kind of mini nuclear reactor from scavanged luminous paint on watch dials ? Yep, here we go; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hahn.

It's been an interesting read, Moose, but I don't really care where the kid got his mercury. All sorts of naughty stuff can be found thesedays. The aspect that bugs me is that he took it into School with intent. I rank that alongside calling out the fire brigade for a 'prank'. They've got better things to do. Maybe someone is dying in a car wreck, whilst they're on call to a non-event.

__________________
Kudos to peeps at Troy for sorting recent problems. What is the prize for sucking up ? Please do not acknowledge a tongue-in-cheek comment.
Reply
Anonymous Poster
#32
In reply to #5

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

05/07/2009 4:10 AM

Kris,

You couldn't put it better! It is the intention and the will of harming others for no or any reason that is in question here...I am sure, if there is will you can do anything! therefore the boy was able to find the mercury!

It is well done the punishment not because of the mercury (that everybody has survived from and maybe no student was harmed) but for understanding why you shouldnt harm people and finding other ways of solving your problems...If this kid doesnt realise this when he becomes a teenager what will he do?...start shooting others?

And of course the financial costs that has cost to the school...all this money could have been used for renovating the library, computer facilities even the laboratories (how oxymoron!).

Reply
Guru
Hobbies - Fishing - Popular Science - Paleontology - New Member

Join Date: May 2008
Location: Holeincanoe Ontario
Posts: 2176
Good Answers: 27
#6

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/20/2008 7:10 AM

Some old surveying instruments used liquid mercury to create a 'false' reflected horizon the perimetres of which could be measured...handy gizmo on the open plains (also helped Peary to ascertain the closest approximation of the exact North Pole which, incidentally, has yet to be determined). Brunton sold liquid mercury up until the 60's.

Given that GE and Sprague were in the area I'd surmise your theory holds.

Also heard that mercury and diatomaceouse earth were used in the de-worming and insecticide process but have no idea how what. If that's the case, and given that the authorities are keeping tight lipped I'd get a soil analysis of the immediate area and check for any ppm readings that surpass the average.

__________________
Prophet Freddy has the answer!
Reply
Anonymous Poster
#7

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/20/2008 10:40 AM

Extremely well written article! Informative, interesting and enlightening! My question concerning mercury is how does one dispose of the substance as there are few places to bring it to. In smaller as well as larger communities the collection of dangerous materials have few collection points if any, and as a result the materials find their way into the landfills and/or ultimately into the ground or water supply.

It would seem to me that if this country is serious about disposal and protecting the environment then a comprehensive and uncomplicated system needs to be implemented.

What do other readers have to say and what suggestions and actions would they offer in resolving this problem?

Reply
Guru
Popular Science - Evolution - New Member

Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: India-Chennai.
Posts: 655
Good Answers: 26
#9
In reply to #7

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/20/2008 12:39 PM

One of the earlier threads had some more interesting discussions on Mercury:

http://cr4.globalspec.com/thread/10713/Mercury-the-wonder-metal

Until very recent past, Mercury filled 'Blood Pressure Monitors" were very much in use. And are still in use in many countries. Of all the simple commercial usages this BP monitors carried huge amount per instrument. I don't think they all would have been disposed safely once they get damaged. Where would have those Mercury gone?

One blessing with this stuff is that it very heavy. If disposed to earth (where probably every one do), there are good chances of percolating in to deep and stay harmlessly (?) there, beyond the reach of any one. After all it (earth) is where that has come from.

__________________
A picture worth thousand words: needless to say if it is animated.
Reply
Guru
Hobbies - Fishing - Popular Science - Paleontology - New Member

Join Date: May 2008
Location: Holeincanoe Ontario
Posts: 2176
Good Answers: 27
#12
In reply to #9

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/20/2008 1:11 PM

You are very wrong. If it does not oxidize first it can reach and contaminate the water table. If it does oxidize or bond with the minerals in the soil it will be taken up through the roots of plants and become part of the food chain.

There are large areas of your country that are contaminated with arsenopyrite.......arsenic.......found in the shallow water table that people drink from. It is a myth that whatever comes from the 'earth' is safe. On the other hand there are areas, again in your country, where the water contains fluorine and calcium....and is very healthy to drink.

__________________
Prophet Freddy has the answer!
Reply
Power-User

Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Durban, South Africa
Posts: 373
Good Answers: 7
#14

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/20/2008 2:25 PM

This is getting off topic. Look at the picture! liquid elemental mercury in this quantity is rare. It is used in chemical labs, barometers and thermometers. It is also used by dentists to make amalgams and in the extraction of gold (expensive and difficult - cyanide is cheaper) I do not believe the problem comes from fertilisers, electric bulbs or the like. Mercury switches only use a small quantity, It is not necessary to use more, but I doubt if these are produced in quantity these days.

Mercury itself gives off vapours - all liquids do - and skin absorption is also possible. If exposed to the high enough concentrations or contiguously then there is a risk. The occupational exposure level is .05HG over an eight hour period. so, while it is very toxic, the likelihood of problems by exposure would need excessive time, concentration & temperature could also be a factor.

Currently there is a paranoia with regard to dental fillings - they have been used for years without problems - again the quantity is so low!

The question here I believe is how did junior get his paws on such a quantity? Some one was very careless or ignorant of the subject.

Compounds of mercury are a different kettle of fish as they can be more easily assimilated into the body. No one has mentioned fulminate which would be another red herring.

__________________
You can always tell the pioneers - they are the ones with arrows in their backs.
Reply
Anonymous Poster
#15
In reply to #14

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/20/2008 6:09 PM

"No one has mentioned fulminate which would be another red herring."

Just as well no one's mentioned it, then.

Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Guru
Engineering Fields - Construction Engineering - New Member Engineering Fields - Civil Engineering - New Member Hobbies - Fishing - New Member Hobbies - Target Shooting - New Member Hobbies - Hunting - New Member Popular Science - Weaponology - New Member United States - Member - New Member Hobbies - DIY Welding - New Member

Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: Latitude 38.701979 Longitude -90.439540 Coordinates 38.701979, -90.439540 N38°42.11874, W090°26.3724
Posts: 611
Good Answers: 13
#17

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/22/2008 6:28 AM

The kid probably did find it on an old farm or as stated above got it from the GE Bldg or Sprague Elect. Co. site.

You can find all kinds of wonderful chemicals on Old farm sites as well as old closed down factory sites. Very few companies really clean up their sites when they close down. And none maintain any sort of security around the perimeter after they leave.

As an example here in the St. Louis area. The old National Lead site. I used to play on its grounds after it closed down. I imagine I have all kinds of nasty chemicals in my body from just running around the site. And I generally didn't mess with the sealed drums that turned up here and there. Many of which turned up after the site was closed. Gee I wonder who was using it for a dumping ground? I was always interested in chemistry so I could generally ID what the labels said were in the drums when the labels were actually still readable by looking them up in my reference books. That is assuming the labels and the contents actually matched.

Last I heard the site is still vacant. At one time they wanted to build a casino on it but the cost of removing all the nastiest ones was to high. So I think its still vacant.

Just recently we did a survey of an old farm that turned up very high levels of arsenic in the soil. Turns out the old farmer used to use it around there for pesticide. Guess I shouldn't have eaten those sweet potatoes he gave me. OH well we all die of something.

__________________
scotchdrnkr
Reply
Commentator

Join Date: May 2008
Location: St. Paul , MN
Posts: 82
Good Answers: 6
#18

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/22/2008 8:44 AM

Thanks for all the 'I'm still here' comments. Perhaps we should explain statistics to all the engineers and scientists that would claim their 'still being here' is proof that the dangers of mercury. Please stop this 'I am still here' junk and stick to the facts. From the EPA website we get the following regarding elemental mercury:

Elemental mercury effects

Elemental (metallic) mercury primarily causes health effects when it is breathed as a vapor where it can be absorbed through the lungs. These exposures can occur when elemental mercury is spilled or products that contain elemental mercury break and expose mercury to the air, particularly in warm or poorly-ventilated indoor spaces. The first paragraph on this page lists the factors that determine the severity of the health effects from exposure to mercury. Symptoms include these: tremors; emotional changes (e.g., mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness); insomnia; neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching); headaches; disturbances in sensations; changes in nerve responses; performance deficits on tests of cognitive function. At higher exposures there may be kidney effects, respiratory failure and death. People concerned about their exposure to elemental mercury should consult their physician.

Additional Information:

Additional information on the health effects of elemental mercury is available from the IRIS database at http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0370.htm.

Reply
Guru
Engineering Fields - Construction Engineering - New Member Engineering Fields - Civil Engineering - New Member Hobbies - Fishing - New Member Hobbies - Target Shooting - New Member Hobbies - Hunting - New Member Popular Science - Weaponology - New Member United States - Member - New Member Hobbies - DIY Welding - New Member

Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: Latitude 38.701979 Longitude -90.439540 Coordinates 38.701979, -90.439540 N38°42.11874, W090°26.3724
Posts: 611
Good Answers: 13
#21
In reply to #18

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/23/2008 6:42 AM

We aren't saying that Mercury isn't dangerous with our "I'm still here " comments but the Media has a tendency to Over Emphasize the dangers of anything that poses any sort of danger to the public. And when it comes to children they blow things out of proportion even more.

And the point is we are "still here". Maybe we lost a few brain cells because of the stuff we played with as kids. But the body is a wonderful thing. If you let it take care of itself. Most of the time it will. And in the future these exact same kids will probably be saying the same thing when they become adults and their kids get into something they aren't supposed to.

Is Mercury dangerous YES!! Especially to children. But so are most of the chemicals janitors use to clean the school while the children are still present.

To close down a school for to do a clean up of a small toxic spill such as this. Which could have easily been done in a few hours. With out all the Hub Bub. Is ridiculous. The school should have closed off the area where the spill was found. Cleaned it up. Disposed of the Mercury in a responsible manner or even given it to their Chemistry dept.. Sent a letter home to the parents telling them what happened. And the media wouldn't have even known about it. And the kid probably would have told them right away where he found the stuff. But when it was made out to be such a "Huge Dangerous" thing the kid got scared and tried to cover his tracks.

They ingest more chemicals eating their favorite junk foods than this little puddle was going to cause.The kids that got sick had more of a reaction to the chemical than most others. Some people are more immune to certain things than others.

I would like to know what the blood levels in the kid who had the Mercury in the first place were. He probably played with the stuff for days before bringing it to school.The media probably reported what the blood levels where in the kids who got sick, unless of course there wasn't any elevated levels. But not in the one who had been handling the stuff for days. He wasn't sick so its "NO STORY".

__________________
scotchdrnkr
Reply
Guru

Join Date: May 2006
Location: Placerville, CA (38° 45N, 120° 47'W)
Posts: 3040
Good Answers: 113
#22
In reply to #18

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/23/2008 11:09 AM

It took a bit of digging, but the websites you provided were testing people who were exposed to elemental mercury vapor daily, 5-6 days a week, for 5-15 years.

The vast majority of these kids had exposure for a few minutes on a single occasion. Obviously the boy who brought the mercury in probably had longer exposure, and possibly his sister as well, but even they had miniscule exposure compared to the mercury-related workers.

Clearly there are individuals who are much more sensitive than most (like nickel sensitivity), but I still believe any sickness of the sister was either unrelated or psychosomatic.

To spend that kind of money on cleanup is ridiculuous! It wasn't anthrax!

__________________
Teaching is a great experience, but there is no better teacher than experience.
Reply Score 1 for Good Answer
Guru
United Kingdom - Member - Not a New Member Hobbies - Musician - New Member Hobbies - Fishing - New Member

Join Date: May 2006
Location: Reading, Berkshire, UK. Going under cover.
Posts: 8324
Good Answers: 353
#25
In reply to #22

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/23/2008 7:02 PM

Here's one GA for that - wish I could give more!

__________________
"Love justice, you who rule the world" - Dante Alighieri
Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Guru
Popular Science - Cosmology - New Member Technical Fields - Technical Writing - New Member Engineering Fields - Energy Engineering - New Member Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - New Member Engineering Fields - Control Engineering - New Member Engineering Fields - Electromechanical Engineering - Old Member, New Association

Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Lexington, KY
Posts: 1036
Good Answers: 55
#23
In reply to #18

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/23/2008 1:12 PM

For the record, about 40% of the worlds mercury contamination comes from burning fossil fuels. Another 40% of the worlds mercury comes from volcanoes. Much of the remaining comes from incineration of trash due to improper disposal.

Vapors from liquid mercury at room temperature are so heavy that unless you panic and pass out, with no one else around, the chances of inhaling some fumes are only increased as you lay on the floor in a state of unconscious hysteria.

By the way, as was observed in the fluorescent lamp facility where mercury levels were rather high (because of defective tooling), the fastest way to rid yourself of mercury is to drink a lot of beer. The connection is not well understood but the effect is well known to be more effective than any other treatment. So, have a tall one on me, mate! It's good for what ale's you..... seriously!

__________________
A great troubleshooting tip...."When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Reply
Anonymous Poster
#35
In reply to #18

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

02/06/2011 3:50 PM

This is going to an old (3 years out) string, but, nothing ventured...

You said "stick to the facts", then you quoted the EPA. Which do you want?

Elemental mercury is almost impossible to be absorbed into your body. You would need to heat it to produce a lot of fumes, then somehow concentrate those fumes and breath them in.

The current mental process concerning mercury is so much of the old "knee-jerk" reaction that has become commonplace.

And I'm still here, too! (played with mercury as a child, taught HS chemistry ever since, and I collect mercury).

Reply
Guru
Popular Science - Cosmology - New Member Technical Fields - Technical Writing - New Member Engineering Fields - Energy Engineering - New Member Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - New Member Engineering Fields - Control Engineering - New Member Engineering Fields - Electromechanical Engineering - Old Member, New Association

Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Lexington, KY
Posts: 1036
Good Answers: 55
#19

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/22/2008 9:19 AM

Any public facility that used one particular brand of T12 fluorescent lamps made before 1999 had a one in thirty chance of containing a major overdose of mercury. This was due to defective tooling in use inside the mercury dispenser. Instead of the tiny droplet, the tooling woud dispense a huge blob inside the lamp that would cover an average area of about 1/2 inch, or from 10 to 20 times the normal amount. This would be quite visible when illuminated but it did not harm the normal life of the lamp. Consequently, these lamps have been and still are showing up at waste sites around the country.

I know because I fixed the design problem. The other engineers were in denial but when they could not account for a missing 5000 lbs of mercury one year, they finally supported my fix to the original tooling. By now, the records have probably been destroyed so the company can deny the truth, but the lamps are out there.

__________________
A great troubleshooting tip...."When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Reply
Commentator

Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Ohio
Posts: 96
Good Answers: 3
#20

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/22/2008 9:35 AM

Aside from the blood pressure monitors, which incidentallty are easier to acquire than one might think, I would check apartment complexes or motels that recently renovated or are vacant. I live in a complex that was built in the 90's and every unit has a mercury-switch thermometor.

__________________
I would rather be ashes than dust...
Reply
Guru
Engineering Fields - Aerospace Engineering - Member United States - Member - Army Vet in the aviation industry

Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Bridgewater, Va.
Posts: 1383
Good Answers: 70
#24

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/23/2008 4:55 PM

I seem to remember getting thoroughly bored with my Etch-A-Sketch back in the 50's, and, in my usual experimenter's mode, tearing it apart to see how it works.

I do think I had quite a small jarful of some liquid scavenged from the box that my buddies and I quickly labeled as "mercury". It seemed to work and puddle like mercury and made shiny pennies. But was it really mercury?

I found precious little info in a quick google scan of "etch-a-sketch". Anybody know?

Hooker

Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 11407
Good Answers: 92
#26
In reply to #24

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/24/2008 3:14 AM

Some kind of graphite was what I always thought (honest). While I'm looking, this is cool ;

http://www.gadgeteer.org/Online_Etch_A_Sketch

and an old favourite ; http://www.etchy.org/

Aluminium powder and plastic beads : http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/etchsketch.htm

__________________
Kudos to peeps at Troy for sorting recent problems. What is the prize for sucking up ? Please do not acknowledge a tongue-in-cheek comment.
Reply
Guru
Engineering Fields - Aerospace Engineering - Member United States - Member - Army Vet in the aviation industry

Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Bridgewater, Va.
Posts: 1383
Good Answers: 70
#27
In reply to #26

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/24/2008 9:31 AM

Kris,

Thanks for the response. I learned two things; the aluminum powder and beads thing, and the fact that the toy didn't come out until 1960.

I woulda sworn it was earlier than that. Gawd, I hate getting old. Way to much to remember!!!

And I have seen the online Etch-A-Sketch's. Somehow they just don't have the same allure. But, then, I'm not 12 years old anymore. Though I do act like it a lot...

Hooker

Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 11407
Good Answers: 92
#28
In reply to #27

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/24/2008 9:59 AM

...I know the feeling !

The bit that fascinated me (it had never dawned on me) was that you could get them in more than just the basic red frame colour. Doh ! They still turn up during the annual boot-sale season in the UK. One of those things that might be worth grabbing to stash. I bought what I thought was 'retro' item the other day, and it turned out to have only been made in the late 90's ! My toys from the 50's would have been worth a fortune if I'd looked after them. Whatever is lineage, Etch-a-Sketch is a classic. I may sound like the Grinch, but I'd love to bin all the modern x-mas toys and get out the old board games and stuff. Mechano, Mousetrap etc....the glory years. People actually gathered arouned and played together. From socket-to -gadget-to-headphones just doesn't seem the same.

My tactic is to get everyone inebriated and then start silly parlour games, like Charades, Sardines etc. OMG, I give away too much - back to my stick and hoop !

Have a very merry X-mas, Hooker. Retro toys would be a great talking subject for the new year. My folks didn't even have a telly hen I was a kid, no joking. People have probably got some great stories to relate. With the current global crisis we could probably all learn a thing or two as well ! If I post about my first bicycle, you'll need a full week to read of my joy. Utter simple bliss. I had found 'freedom', and was a man with wheels. Nothing could stop me. I ....oops, sorry, I've started !

Wishing you a great time,

Kris

__________________
Kudos to peeps at Troy for sorting recent problems. What is the prize for sucking up ? Please do not acknowledge a tongue-in-cheek comment.
Reply
Anonymous Poster
#34
In reply to #27

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

09/17/2010 6:54 PM

I know this is an old thread, but I personally remember getting mercury out of a broken old Etch-a-sketch and playing with it as a kid. It was real mercury. We let it roll around our school desktops and we even coated silver dimes with it to make an amalgam. This would have been around the early 70's. We played with it on our desks at school and used our bare hands. Somehow we survived without any bad effects.

Marty from Oregon

Reply
Guru

Join Date: May 2006
Location: Placerville, CA (38° 45N, 120° 47'W)
Posts: 3040
Good Answers: 113
#29
In reply to #24

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/24/2008 1:05 PM

I only took one apart, and it only had powder in it. After checking out Kris's links, aluminum sounds right. It's been many years, but if there were any plastic beads, I don't remember noticing them.

Was that stuff you had really a liquid, or just a fluid? I seem to remember some other reference to mercury in Etch-a-Sketch, but with the high surface tension of mercury, it certainly would not coat the glass. If the glass had an invisible thin coating of silver, which is quite conceivable, then the mercury would coat it, but the stylus wouldn't be able to scrape it off and have it stay clear, as then mercury would flow from the sides of the scraped area.

__________________
Teaching is a great experience, but there is no better teacher than experience.
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 11407
Good Answers: 92
#30
In reply to #29

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

12/25/2008 3:41 AM

Same here - I busted one up once (curiosity beat artistic endeavour), but don't recall the beads. It doesn't sound right, 'cos you had to shake it upside down to re-coat the screen with dust, and beads would have disturbed that nice fresh coat of silvery dust.

__________________
Kudos to peeps at Troy for sorting recent problems. What is the prize for sucking up ? Please do not acknowledge a tongue-in-cheek comment.
Reply
Associate

Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: Clover, SC
Posts: 27
#31

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

01/11/2009 8:08 AM

Steve Melito seems to have covered the essence of the issue in his summary. I would like to add...In the '60's and 70's, my late father worked in a soft drink company. His job was to produce the concentrate, which then was sent to the bottler where it was mixed with the carbonated component and added to the bottle or can.

When the company moved South in the late sixties, he was packing things for the move when he dropped a bottle of mercury. I conjecture that it was used to calibrate the mercury filled level-gauges on the 500 - 750 gallon vats that were used in different processes preparing the concentrate. He related to me how difficult it was to contain it before it went down the floor drain. Now, if the bottle had remained on the shelf, or if he had brought it home as a souvenir - it might have helped some enterprising city editor earn his salary as a headline 4o years later.

Although regulated today, mercury was available (and had been for generations) in industrial applications without regulatory restrictions. It is likely there is still a quantity container or three (both labeled and unlabeled) on a backroom shelf in a former industrial venue, or setting in a cellar closet in some working class neighborhood, a silent tribute to a forgotten career.

__________________
Everything that we need to know about the character of advanced extra-terrestrial life is summed in the absence of open communication.
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 599
Good Answers: 23
#33

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 4)

11/06/2009 11:14 AM

Just happened to come across this and after perusing a number of the entries I noticed that no one brought up the fact that North Adams, Ma. was in an area known for hat making. Hatters used mercury to block hats and the term "mad as a hatter" came from the effect that mercury had on them. Also, Lewis G .Carroll had his Mad Hatter in Alice In Wonderland.

Perhaps in exploring one of the old mills the lad came across a supply in an old hat factory or perhaps in a dump site used by the hat factory. What should be of more concern is whether or not there is any more out in that site whichever it is.

__________________
Spinco
Reply
Reply to Blog Entry 35 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be "almost" Good Answers:

Check out these comments that don't yet have enough votes to be "official" good answers and, if you agree with them, rate them!
Copy to Clipboard

Users who posted comments:

Anonymous Poster (6); Bluestone (1); Daddio926 (1); dkwarner (3); Duckinthepond (2); engineermanmayer (1); hazman (2); Hooker (2); Jaxy (1); JohnDG (3); Kris (4); NotUrOrdinaryJoe (2); scotchdrnkr (2); Spinco (1); Turbotroll3 (1); VMI1998 (1); yesyen (2)

Previous in Blog: "Magical" Christmas Origins   Next in Blog: Bricoleur or Engineer or ...???
You might be interested in: Liquid Level Switches, Industrial Liquid Handling Pumps, Liquid Leak Detectors