Mercury is an element that cannot be broken down but is instead stored in soil, water and living organisms. It is dangerous for the environment and for human health. Mercury can be released into the environment from coal combustion, smelting plants, crematoria, landfill sites, and sewage sludge. Hundreds of countries around the world have signed on to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, an agreement to stop using mercury and limit mercury emissions.
Mercury is banned in almost all articles sold in Sweden. The ban also applies to private individuals who sell articles, for example, on the secondary market.
Even though mercury is forbidden, it may occur in some articles. Examples are low-energy bulbs, luminous lamps, rechargeable batteries, and old mercury thermometers. When such products are broken or torn, they should be dealt with as hazardous waste and therefore be handed into an environmental station or a recycling center.
If a lamp or a thermometer break
In case a low-energy bulb, a luminous lamp or an old mercury thermometer that contain mercury break, it is important to take care of the remains in a correct way. This, so that neither you, nor the environment take harm. To be exposed to small amounts of mercury occasionally does not affect the health negatively. Even so, it is good to be careful.
Do not use the vacuum cleaner
Do not use the vacuum cleaner to clean up the remains since there is a risk that the vacuum cleaner spreads out the mercury in the air and that you breath it in.
In case a hot bulb breaks
If a low-energy bulb is on or just have been on when it breaks, you should take extra care. This is important because when the bulb is hot, the mercury is gaseous and can spread by the air indoors. To avoid breathing in the mercury, do the following:
- Close all inner doors to the room in which the bulb has broken.
- Open a window to ventilate and leave the room for 20-30 minutes.
- When the remains of the bulbs have cooled you should collect them, using a piece of stiff paper or cardboard, for example. Then, put the pieces in a glass jar with a lid.
- Wipe the floor with a moist cloth. Then, also put the cloth in the jar. Close the lid and label the jar with the text saying "Contains mercury".
- Wash your hands.
- Hand in the jar to your municipality's environmental station for hazardous waste.
In case a cold bulb breaks
If the bulb or the thermometer that has broken is at room temperature you do not have to be as careful. In this case, you can start collecting and dispose of the remains according to step 3-6 in the list above.
Affects on the health
To be exposed to low amounts of mercury occasionally does not affect the health seriously, but should due to precautionary reasons be avoided even so. Continuous contact with mercury might in the long term affect the nervous system and the brain.