I tried to find information about this online but unfortunately couldn't find anything besides more or less serious-looking articles.

I'm not sure this is the right place to ask but I don't know where else to go. So yesterday, I accidentally broke a mercury thermometer which caused a mercury spill. The mercury beads were spread all over the room and that made the collecting of the beads that were visible really difficult, so it took around 2 hrs to clean,(its not that hot these days around 27-30 degree centigrade where I live) while cleaning I was wearing a mask but still I am concerned about the vapors. So can that amount of mercury cause any significant harm, and would it be considered as an acute exposure? Also can the damage be reversed or is the mercury going to remain inside me if I did inhale them, and what symptoms if any can be observed if could be with this sort of exposure.

  • The link in the answer by @almagest should be helpful. – Carey Gregory Sep 29 '20 at 15:19

The first thing you learn in toxicology is that it is all a question of dose. Anything will kill you if you take enough of it; nothing will kill you if you take a small enough dose.

The fact is that mercury poisoning is relatively rare these days, even though there is a good deal of mercury around. The obvious case is the old-style mercury amalgam fillings. They are clearly a bad idea, yet there are umpteen healthy people over 80 with their mouths full of them.

When I did my A-level practical work in Chemistry in 1965 I inhaled, touched etc numerous chemicals that are banned today - any school laying on lab sessions today like the ones I did would be instantly closed down. Yet no one even bothered to visit the school matron after keeling over from inhaling something noxious. No after-effects were ever noticed.

It is easy to scare yourself by reading journal articles from Google Scholar about cases of serious mercury poisoning, but it is unlikely that the dose you would have received would cause any harm that your immune system could not cope with.

Of course, in these litigious days, I have to add that there is no way of knowing from your brief description exactly what your exposure was, so I have to disclaim all responsibility and recommend you contact your physician.

Note that 30C is still way below the boiling point of mercury, but a small amount of vapour would still come off. There is a good set of answers on that and related issues on the Chemistry SE site. Note particularly the point about not missing a big blob of Hg which will then completely evaporate over time.

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