Vapors from household products containing mercury present a serious threat to human health, according to this public service announcement from the Michigan Department of Community Health.
Mercury vapors are actually more harmful than physical exposure to mercury, according to department toxicologist Christina Bush. While mercury in its natural liquid state does not absorb through the skin, exposure to the fumes is dangerous.
“It can be difficult to predict at what point exposure to mercury vapors will cause harm,” Bush said, “It depends on the amount in the air and how long people are breathing in the mercury.”
The health department recommends that concentrations in a nonresidential setting (like an office or a store), where mercury normally is not handled but where a spill has occurred, not exceed 3 micrograms per cubic meter after the mercury is cleaned up properly. When a spill occurs in a home, daycare setting, or other place where young children or pregnant women may spend a lot of time, the department recommends that the post-cleanup mercury concentration be less than 1 microgram per cubic meter. With proper cleanup, the mercury concentrations will become much lower over the next few days as the air turns over in the building.
Additional information on mercury, its hazards, and its proper disposal can be found at the health department’s mercury website.
The full series of health department mercury PSAs can be found here.