Quecksilver – a useful but also a dangerous metal
Metallic quicksilver strongly expands with heat and evaporates already at room temperature. It is / was used among others in thermometers, manometers, fluorescent lamps, micro batteries (button cells) and switches of electronic devices. Organic and inorganic quicksilver compounds are/were used against batteries, fungus and insects, for seeds and wood treatment as well as antifouling agent in paint coloring substances.
For some of the listed uses alternatives have been found in the meantime, yet not for all of them. The fact also, that in the past year in addition to quicksilver containing lamps and batteries, 349 kg quicksilver or products containing quicksilver were collected by the SuperDrecksKëscht® show that quicksilver remains an subject in current times.
From the environment into food
Quicksilver may get in the environment via various means, naturally, for instance volcanic activities, used water from chemical plants (industrial processes) but also by household waste. Coal-fired power plants also release mercury into the environment despite modern filters.
Inorganic and organic quicksilver compounds may build up in the food chain and thus be absorbed by the human through food and concentrate in the body. Poisoning leads to nerve and kidney damages. In the 1950ies the Japanese experienced spectacular illnesses with mortal outcome due to the consumption of fish (Minamata disease) whereas Iraq counted about 500 deaths in the 1970ies by poisoned seeds.
The inhalation of quicksilver vapor is very dangerous (for instance if a thermometer breaks) as it is absorbed by 80% by the lung. In higher concentration it leads to severe lung damage and chronic damage of the central nerve system. Severe cases of poisoning lead to important stomach and intestine colic, local mucus burning and even to kidney failure. Smaller doses lead to cell and protoplasm poisoning. Quicksilver is stored among others in the liver, kidney and brain and only eliminated slowly by the kidneys.
Due to the danger of vapors it is important to secure even the smallest quantity of quicksilver. Metallic quicksilver spilled in living and working areas should be carefully collected.
What you should pay attention to while handling quicksilver
- Dispose of waste containing quicksilver as button cells and fluorescent light tubes via the SuperDrecksKëscht®. Electronic devices may also contain quicksilver containing parts. Dispose of such devices by giving them back to the reseller or at the resources center.
- Should you have to make remove quicksilver from a broken thermometer or similar devices: For smooth surfaces use a simple tool as for instance a shovel or a brush, for rough surfaces binding agents may be necessary (i.e. Mercurisorb®). Cell tape may also be used to collect quicksilver. Put the collected quicksilver in a closed container and bring it to the SDK. Do not touch quicksilver with bare hands (danger of burning) and avoid inhalation of vapors. For specific questions call the specialists of the SuperDrecksKëscht®.
- Old Fluorescent or energy-saving lamps contain a maximum of 5 milligrams of mercury, which in itself represents a low concentration (for comparison, with thermometers it is up to 500 mg). The mercury contained in the normal handling of the lamps can not in the environment or. Ambient air is released because it is bound and not elemental. In many new models, mercury is also present as a mixture with other metals (amalgam). Consumers should generally be cautious with all fragile products. Converted throughout Luxembourg, the annual fluorescent lamps contain several kg of mercury. Therefore, return fluorescent lamps and also lamp breakage of fluorescent lamps to the SDK, which collects them on behalf of Ecotrel.
Quicksilver disposed of at the SDK is completely recycled and used as raw material in technical processes. Mercury-containing luminous powder is also recycled as far as possible, otherwise safely disposed of.
Avoiding quicksilver !
- Alternatives exist for batteries and thermometers containing quicksilver. Your reseller or the SuperDrecksKëscht® will be happy to provide you information about this.
For any further questions just call the SDK, Tel. 488 216-1.