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Accidental Contact with Mercury


Mercury can be removed from 14k gold by two methods. The first was
covered by John Burgess, heat and polish off the residue. The second
is to apply nitric acid using a long glass stopper, then rinse the
acid off after a few seconds. Extreme safety precautions should be
used with either method.

Happy Smithing
Cathy Wheless
Phone/Fax 804-233-6636


Judy, Thank you for the heads-up about mercury, but I have some
questions for you. I have been exposed casually over the years to a
small amount of environmental mercury, and the town where I grew up,
Oak Ridge, TN used and “lost” tens to even hundreds of thousands
pounds of it processing uranium in the 40’s and 50’s. I am told by
people that worked there that literally tons of the stuff lies in the
clay at the bottom of East Tennessee lakes-and that we are lucky they
are generally deep valleys dammed up by TVA to provide electricity to
the Manhatten Project. They also said because of the clay and depth;
little of it gets into the fish or out into the ground water or food
chain. I read an article about a researcher who died just as you said,
but she was exposed to a very special form of ‘heavy’ mercury that
not only was far more able to penetrate cell walls, skin, and
protective barriers such as gloves, it concentrated within her body
to wreak it’s havoc. Can you shed some light on this? I ask because
my has it that normal thermometer variety mercury, while
slippery stuff, does not pose the kind of irreversible and sudden
health danger that experimental form demonstrated. Thanks in advance
for your help and thanks for your cautionary warnings, at least they
don’t use it in dental amalgams like they did when I was younger.



Lawrence, Mercury, like all chemical elements, is a mixture of several
naturally occurring isotopes (atoms of the same element but with
slightly different atomic weights). There is no such thing as "heavy"
mercury. In the incident you referred to, the researcher was probably
exposed to (di)methylmercury. This organic compound of mercury is
EXTREMELY dangerous because it is a volatile liquid (about like
water). So ambient air, even at room temperature, can contain quite a
high concentration of the vapor. Methylmercury can also enter our body
by dissolving in the fats and oils in our skin. It also probably
dissolved in the latex gloves on the research worker you mentioned. On
the other hand, elemental mercury (the shiny stuff we all played with
as kids), is extremely non-volatile and is not absorbed through the
skin. It is, therefore, relatively safe to handle in moderation. I
certainly don’t mean to belittle the danger of mercury vapor. It is
VERY toxic. But it’s pretty hard to get a toxic exposure from
occasional contact with the metallic material. However, vaporizing
mercury by heating a contaminated piece of gold or silver, is quite
another thing. I wouldn’t be afraid to do this outdoors with a decent
breeze blowing the vapors away from me but I surely wouldn’t do it
regularly in a poorly ventilated studio or workshop. In fact, I’m not
wild about inhaling silver and copper vapor 8 hours a day for 300 or
so days a year. I don’t know of any studies on this subject but I
can’t believe that the vapors are benign. The website below is one
from a U.S. Gov’t Agency and addresses the Toxicity of Mercury…Bob