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Accidential Contact with Mercury


My gold (14K) bracelet came in contact with mercury. Would you
provide some guidance as to how I go about having the mercury removed.
I live in the Metropolitan Washington DC area and any
advice/professional contact(s) would be greatly appreciated.

Rick Sorrenti


Hmmm, back in the depression, the down and outers would pan for fine
gold and then put it in a potato and heat it up in a fire and end up
with a little lump of gold. Could you drive off the mercury vapors

   My gold (14K) bracelet came in contact with mercury.  Would you 
provide some guidance as to how I go  about having the mercury

G’day Rick; If the bracelet is a simple band, just heat it in a
well ventilated place taking care not to breathe the fumes. Pickle
it well, then repolish. If it is a bit more than that and you have no
equipment, take it to your friendly neighbourhood manufacturing
jeweller, who will do just that, only he/she will know how much to
heat it and what to do if things go wrong! But do it as a priority
or the mercury will get well into the gold. Cheers, –

        /\      John Burgess
       / /
      / /
     / /__|\


Hello Rick, You can remove the mercury with heat (don’t breathe the
fumes) or by rubbing it off on a polishing machine. You can also stop
by and I will take care of it for you. I’m at 4530 Lee hiway, Arlington Va.


Rick, I worked in a jewelry store in the 70’s as a clerk, so I don’t
know how the jeweler down in the shop worked his magic on the mercury
problem, but I do know that if it’s not dealt with immediately it may
be too late. We had nurses come in about once a month who’d had a
thermometer break and got on their wedding set. Many times they would
crumble to a powder before they ever
got downstairs. NET


Rick- You can ‘soak’ the bracelet in a diluted Nitric acid bath. It’ll
remove all the mercury but will also attack the solder joints as
well. I repaired a beautiful old Edwardian filigree bracelet last
year, upon which the previous deviant used tin solder for all the
repairs. Upon soaking it the entire bracelet fell apart into about
three dozen pieces that i then had to re-assemble. Lesson learned: use
a very weak solution…you can always make it stronger.


Mercury combines readily to the surface of fine jewelry. It can very
easily be removed by heating, which evaporates the mercury. This of
course is very hazardous. In the past, jewelers merely warmed a ring
or a coin with a torch to remove mercury. However, this practice
would no longer be considered safe. Be sure to take appropriate
precautions. This means researching and adhering to local health and
safety codes.

My question is, just how toxic is the mercury found in thermometers
and in high school science class? Alan

Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts
760 Market Street . Suite 900
San Francisco . California . 94102 . USA
tel: 415 . 391 . 4179
fax: 415 . 391 . 7570
web site:


Hi Alan, I have not done any research on the toxicity of metalic
mercury, but lots of folks now in the 40 to 70 range had a lot of
exposure. As a young teen, I remember coating pennies with the stuff.
For a day or two they would look like shiney silver dimes. My uncle,
who ran a dental supply house once gave ne a 1/4 pound bottle of it (
a couple of cc). Eventually, most of it got into my personal
environment in the form of ever smaller droplets. Worse than that, in
grade 9 science, using open test tubes in a poorly vented lab the
whole class did the experiment of heating mercury to form mercuric
oxide and then heating it further to drive off the oxygen and return
the reddish oxide back to a metalic state. As I recollect, there was
a significant reduction in the volume of mercury from start to finish,
presumably we all breathed a good deal of it with no aparent effect.
I don’t think this is comperable to the regular ingestion of mercury
in a largely fish diet that has so devestated many native reserve
communities in both Canada and the US.

None of this really answers your question, anecdotal evidence
obviously can not, but it does suggest that if someone accidentally
breaks a fever thermometer, they should clean it up without a sense of
dread. After that would come the question of proper disposal. For
several years I have kept a small vial of mercury from a broken
thermometer because I don’t have a safe and convenient method of
disposal. I have the same problem with old mercury and NiCad
batteries. They sit in a drawer because I don’t have a convenient
method of disposal and don’t want them to go into land fill. Got any
suggestions? MP


Hello Alan, As an old - er, make that experienced - science teacher
who has done many school inspections for environmental hazards, the
mercury in lab thermometers IS of concern. Elemental mercury is
liquid and going to evaporate easily due to low vapor pressure at
ambient temps. and the vapors are toxic. Likewise, handling
mercury, which is fat soluble, is a no-no. When in salt (or organic)
form mercury is even more soluble. This compound will go through
latex gloves (2 layers), get onto the skin, can be immediately
absorbed and then is very toxic. One case cited of a researcher who
was double gloved, had a mercury compound spill in a vent hood. She
cleaned up the spill and then removed the gloves; unfortunately, the
compound had already penetrated the gloves and skin. The exposure
was so severe that she died 4 months later. It’s pretty safe to say
that high school chemistry students will not be involved with these
kinds of chemicals, but at present there is no alternative to the
mercury thermometer for lab use. Science teachers receive
instruction on proper handling of toxic spills and any school that
can’t afford the necessary immediate response kit (and possible
hazardous waste team), has no business using mercury thermometers.
Ths kits aren’t very expensive and are quite simple to use. My
concerns lie in the disposal of mercury from thermometers broken
decades ago. In the past, the toxic hazard of mercury (like lead) at
low levels was not considered to be very great. I remember actually
handling mercury in HS chem lab and when a thermometer was broken,
the cleaned-up mercury was usually dumped into a lab sink. Knowing
that mercury is very heavy, you can imagine where it accumulates - in
the P-trap under the sink. As long as the accumulation is covered by
water, there is no volitilization. However, do you think the trap
stays wet after a hot three month summer vacation? My inspections
always addressed this possibility and the need to remove mercury from
the various hood and sink traps. That’s probably more than you cared
to know, but the more we learn about exposure to heavy metals, the
more we realize how careful we must be. Alan, thank you for all your
excellent contributions. I’ve delighted in reading your responses.

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
Extension Associate
221 Call Hall Kansas State Univerisity
Manhattan KS 66506
(785) 532-1213 FAX (785) 532-5681


If you try to remove the mercury from jewelry with a polishing
machine, you are going to wind up contaminating the buff.
Alan Revere


Just as toxic as any other mercury! Mercury thermometers have been
banned from high school classrooms here. And to think I used to play
with the stuff in my old chemistry room… (To say nothing of working
in a small, poorly ventilated electron microscope room with a mercury
vacuum pump. Used to find tiny droplets of mercury on the workbench
when we cleaned!) Maybe that accounts for the memory loss!


Judy, Digital (thermocouple-type) thermometers are now available at a
fairly reasonable price. It shouldn’t be too difficult to persuade
school authorities to purchase them once you point out the potential
hazards/risk of injury and the “political” ramifications (AKA
parent’s reactions) of even a single response from a HazMat emergency
response team.

Warm Regards,


My understanding is that there are two of more forms of mercury, with
very different toxicities.

The case you refer to with the woman who died after one exposure, was
not from the normal elemental mercury, but rather a form that is
particularly toxic and quite rare. It is very unlikely that we
goldsmiths would have any opportunity to run into the very dangerous
kind. That is not to say we should be careless. However one skin
contact leading to death certainly did not happen to me (at least in
my mind). I think I am still here, haunting Orchid and adding my 3
cents whenever I can.

Is there an expert out there who knows the real scoop on mercury’s
various forms and toxicities?

Alan Revere


Michael, Where do you live? Here in Portland, OR, we have a Household
Hazardous Waste Program that accepts asbestos, waste oil,
insecticides, mercury, batteries, and everything else under the sun
from the public for safe disposal. They also accept waste from
commercial sources such as yourself that produce under a specific
amount of material annually (AKA “Conditionally Exempt Generator”).

I’d recommend contacting your household waste contractor (AKA the
garbage collectors) and see what they say you should do with it.
Alternately (provided you live in the US), contact your nearest DEQ
(Dept. of Environmental Quality) and they should be able to
definitively answer your question.

Warm Regards,


I used to play with mercury too when I was a kid back in the early
1930’s. My father brought home a whole bottle of the stuff, enough
for a hundred thermometers and gave it to me and I thought I was a
lucky kid. He got it from where he worked. They used a lot of it
there and my father had no idea that it was dangerous.

The main thing I remember about it is that it is very slippery in the
hand and rolls around all over the place, and that if you put some on
a dime (made of silver in those days) and kept rubbing and rubbing it
all over the metal it would adhere to the metal and you would have a
very slippery ten cent piece.

A lot of us kids did that and who knows which of our various ailments
during our lifetimes are due to such behavior.

Now fortunately there are people who warn us about this and lots of
other serious hazards.

Len Carlson

   My question is, just how toxic is the mercury found in
thermometers and in high school science class? 

This seems to be a good topic to research together with John Burgess,
another chemist in the gang. Sure, evaporation is the safest for the
jewelry piece, especially if the solder is not very low melting. We
should have an inert (to gold) medium to put the “infected” piece in,
�dd some mercury "scavenger, enclose it all in a tin (closed) and
then do the heating, being sure that the evaporating mercury will get
bound chemically forever. Acid treatment will leave the surface
corroded, because the gold or/and silver that has dissolved in the
amalgam will never be mechanically sound. I have done the heating “in
the open” and so contributed to the general polution, but the wedding
rings (the usual targets) came out OK. No treatment will help if the
amount of mercury dissolved is too large, then it is bye bye…
Concerning the thermometers - they are completely safe untill broken
:slight_smile: To collect the mercury spilled in lab we used X-ray films (as a
tough piece of plastic) and for the rest - well cleaned copper foil or
sheet which is “wetted” by mercury. The disposal of that piece is
another problem, but at least the spill is collected. I have worked
in a chem lab where many generations of students had been breaking
mercury thermometers (and collected the spills). Air analyses did not
show any contamination (at least we were told so :-). Fortunately
enough, no chemist has displayed any mercury poisoning symptoms in
the last 45 years that I can judge myself. We are a tough bunch.
Jewellers should be more cautious, because gold sediments in their
bodies attract mercury :slight_smile: Eddie from Latvia


Hello Michael Parkin, Your comment that cleaning up a broken fever
thermometer can be done without dread is a very good point! My
earlier post gave a worst case scenerio with a nasty mercury compound
not commonly found outside the laboratory; elemental mercury is far
less damaging. I apologize for not emphasizing that initially. I
would say that in dealing with elemental mercury, respectful caution
is proper; no reason for panic. If someone has an accidental spill
of mercury, a call to the local health department or a dentist should
garner advice and perhaps assistance. So far as properly disposing of
the mercury and batteries in your possession, if I knew where you
lived, I might be able to put you in touch with a free disposal site.
MOST states in the US have developed programs for collection either
periodically or ongoing. Feel free to contact me off line if you
wish. Judy Judy M. Willingham, R.S. Extension Associate 221 Call Hall
Kansas State Univerisity Manhattan KS 66506 (785) 532-1213 FAX
(785) 532-5681


I played with mercury in high school science class (1970s’) and I
have lupus, an autoimmune disease. Don’t know if there’s any
connection; it was not immediately harmful. Evalynne


Along the lines of mercury poisoning… My drafting teacher in high
school told us a story about his childhood visits to the dentist.
Several times he was given a small amount of mercury to “play” with
in the palm of his hand (mind you, my drafting teacher was in his
sixties, so this was a while ago, before someone realized this wasn’t
such a great idea). Later on in life, during some medical tests, the
mercury was found in his system. If I remember correctly it had
settled in his liver. So, although it may not kill you, it does get
into your system and stays there. Just food for thought… Laney


Evalynne - I, too, played with mercury as a child. I have
fibromyalgia, another autoimmune disease. I was just wondering today
if mercury might have played a part. Let me know if you learn anything! Gini