Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Haz-Mat Clean-up in Aisle Three

Who knew that glass thermometers still had mercury in them?! Guess who found out the hard way that they do?

I really thought that mercury in household thermometers was a thing of the dangerous past, like those rickety wooden spinny things on the playgrounds of my childhood. But tonight, after C. Peevie accidentally knocked the thermometer on the hardwood floor, I found out that a) mercury thermometers are NOT a thing of the past, and b) cleaning up a mercury spill is sort of a pain in my pasty white butt.

How dangerous could a few tiny balls of elementary mercury actually be? I thought to myself. I'll just wipe it up with a rag and throw everything away. No, I decided, better take a few seconds and look it up first.

Geez. You practically have to call in a haz-mat SWAT team to clean up the spill area. The EPA provides guidelines that list nine items on the clean-up supply list, including "eyedropper" and "optional powdered sulfur," and nine not-so-simple steps to get the mercury safely off the floor and into an EPA-audited safe disposal unit. Or something.

So I spent the next half hour collecting my haz-mat equipment, not including the optional powdered sulfur, but including the shaving cream and paint brush and a temperamental flashlight that worked sporadically, like a sixth grader who forgot to take his Ritalin.

Then I got down on my hands and knees and oh-so-carefully cardboarded the metallic beads into a little cluster. The flashlight turned out to be very useful for locating a multitude of tiny beads that I would not have seen otherwise--when it actually worked. It was apparently in an intermittent kind of mood--which I totally understand; trust me, Flashlight, I've been there --and it would randomly stop working, at which time I would leak swears. Just itty-bitty ones, though.

Once the beads were corralled, I was supposed to suck them up with an eye-dropper, but of course, I did not have such an archaic implement. What do you need eye-droppers for these days? Meds that require a dropper--like eye drops, for example--usually come with the dropper built into the container. So I used the "scootch method" to pick up the larger mercury beads, a method which the EPA has not yet included in its instruction manual.

Then, to get most of the teensy beads, I used the shaving-cream-on-a-paint-brush method. Unfortunately, the hardwood floor in The Green Room has very slight gaps between some of the planks, and I am positive that I am even now being slowly poisoned by left-over mercury infecting my airspace.

I'll let you know if I break out in a disgusting rash, or suddenly stop breathing.

This haz-mat episode took over an hour, which is an hour I did not get to spend watching Dancing With the Stars, dang it all to heck. I cannot believe that Mark was eliminated, which makes me sad, but Bruno, as always, came through with hilarious analysis: "It was a little bit like watching Kung Fu Panda dance the samba in 'Planet of the Apes.'"

Meanwhile, C. Peevie was comfortably ensconced in his couch divot, watching Angel DVDs and snorting at my frustrated outbursts. What is wrong with this picture? If the kid didn't have a broken leg, and if the EPA didn't firmly instruct me with capital letters to NOT allow children to help clean up the spill, his 14-year-old ass would have been doing haz-mat duty.

And just because I like to provide full-service information to our Green Room visitors, here are a few fun facts about elemental mercury:

  • A mere two tablespoons weighs about one pound.
  • NEVER use a vaccuum or broom to clean up mercury, because doing so will increase exposure.
  • Chronic exposure affects the central nervous system, causing various symptoms including tremors and irritability.
That's all, folks. Get rid of your old thermometers before you end up cranky and hunched over a tiny paint brush coated with shaving cream, like me.

3 comments:

Boy George said...

Wow, I didn't realize mercury clean-up was such an ordeal. Geez, I remember when we played with mercury with our hands in 6th grade! (Shows how old I am, huh...) Can't think of any negative effect it had on me, aside from the massive brain damage some people claim I must have experienced at some point.

Boy George said...

Oh, and in regard to Angel, which C. Peevie preferred over watching you do the clean-up: I'm still not sure yet how I feel about the series. I recently bought the first 2 seasons when they were on sale for $20 at Target. I've only watched the first 3 episodes, and it hasn't totally grabbed me yet. A friend of mine in California loves the show (he was telling me all the reasons why a few years ago). Should I keep giving it a chance?

E. Peevie said...

Re Angel: YES, it's totally worth it! Anything by Joss Whedon is totally worth it.

Have you watched Buffy? You might want to start with Buffy, and pick up Angel at the point when the two shows split.

I just finished re-watching all five seasons, and I think the excellent writing kind of spoils me for mediocre TV writing. Season five is the absolute best.

You should also watch Firefly, another Joss Whedon creation.

I would totally give Joss Whedon my first-born if he asked, I think he's that good. (Don't tell C. Peevie.)