Have You Touched Liquid Mercury?

What Happens When You Touch Mercury Metal

Touching Mercury: If you hold mercury in your hand, it feels heavy and liquid, but not wet.
Touching Mercury: If you hold mercury in your hand, it feels heavy and liquid, but not wet. videophoto, Getty Images

Mercury is a heavy, liquid metal. It used to be common in thermometers and other equipment. Have you ever touched mercury or been exposed to it? Were you fine or did you experience symptoms or exposure? Did you shrug it off or seek medical attention? Here are responses from About.com Chemistry readers:

That info is exaggerated

Mercury does not absorb through your skin instantly. Elemental mercury does absorb through your skin, but at a very slow pace (I really mean very slowly).

As long as you don't expose your skin to the metal too much and you wash your hands after then you would be fine. If any mercury did absorb through your skin then because the amount will be so small then you would urinate it out leaving no mercury in your body meaning it won't build up to harmful amounts. In fact you could absorb more mercury by eating a can of tuna. Not trying to build up a false sense of safety with this material as it's not something you should have out all the time since if you kept exposing yourself everyday even in small amounts could build to harmful amounts in the body while if it you did it a couple of times a month then it won't build up. And as for the vapor, when the mercury is at room temp then the evaporation rate is only 0.063 ml per hour per cm squared of surface area exposed of mercury.

— chris

Played with Mercury

My dad's dad was an inventor type, and I once found a little bottle with mercury.

I poured some out and was amazed. I had a hard time getting it picked up off the counter. I told my dad I found it and he told me not to mess with it and that it is toxic if exposed for a prolonged time. Mercury is dangerous, and you need to be cautious not to be exposed to it directly for long periods of time, but simply handling it is not going to make you drop dead.

It's like cigarettes; deadly over long periods of exposure, but you aren't going to die if you walk into a smoky bar and have a drink.

— Marcus

Things mess up!!

When I was in primary school my science teacher told us that we should not touch mercury and do not break the thermometer. Instead she was the one who broke it and the mercury was spilled exactly on me all over my hands and maybe face, I'm not sure as it happened too fast. I was too shock to take immediate action and so all I've done is wash my hands thoroughly. I'm not sure if that is enough. huhu

— croc beauty

The Mercury Risk

I have touched mercury back in the day, before it was regulated. It is fun stuff. We all know better now, but I do need to chime in on the actual risks. The risk from elemental mercury is ingestion and inhalation. Ingestion is a "normal" risk, similar to other toxic chemicals and cleaners, and it should not be eaten. The vapor pressure of mercury is so low at room temperature that there is very little risk of inhalation. If you wash your hands after handling, risks are very low. But if you drop a bit, it could become atomized, and inhalation risks go up considerably. Also, if it is heated, as in artisinal gold mining, the risks are high.

So, I agree, when mercury is dropped or vaporizes, evacuate the building. The more problematic and more toxic form of mercury, methylmercury, bioaccumulates and can have serious health consequences, especially for the young and unborn. According to the Blacksmith Institute, 1/3rd of the mercury in the environment is due to artisinal gold mine

— jbd

People once thought Hg was an elixir.

Jack London used to rub it on himself in belief that it would cure him of illness. Needless to say, he did develop mercury poisoning, but that was over many years. So I am sure touching it once won't hurt you at all.

— Chris

Hell ya

It was probably the funniest thing I ever did and I'm not brian damajed

— Player

I did touch liquid Mercury

It wasn't intentional or planned but when one of our thermometers in the lab was broken, we found it the right time to get the experience while we were trying to collect the small pieces.

The experience of seeing the tiny pieces turned into a big one and break them again into tiny pieces was kind of interesting, if not amazing to us during our freshman year.

— Elizabeth

Kentucky

I can't imagine there would be so many stupid people whom believe touching mercury would kill them. When I was in high school we spilled a pint bottle of mercury in the floor. We got down with notebook paper and scraped it up into pile and scooped it up and put in back in the bottle. None of us died, In fact most of us are now very well and over age of 75. Our local school broke a thermometer and the school was evacuated, closed and a chemical response team called in to clean up the mercury. It is ironic how fear mongering by the press and those out to make a dollar from unneeded actions has influenced the masses to leave their brains on off and look to a corrupt government for their salvation.

— oldfellow

Have u touch mercury?

it was the first time i had seen Hg in thermometre at my friends home. and i have broken it for touching . when it was broken, my friend's father shouted on me and said" stupid , nonsence" . do you know it is what? i said "water'" HE SCOLDED ME & SAID "IT IS A LIQUID MATERIAL, name as mercury"

— annemartin

Touching mercury

WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE I TOUCHED MERCURY NOTHING HAPPENED

— DEVARAJAN

Beautiful interesting element

Played with it as a kid and in high school, was never around fumes...now in my 60s and health is still good and teaching...yep, CHEMISTRY

— crazylablady

Loved those magical little beads!

In grade school during the early 60's we were given mercury as a hands on experiment. Touch it and it bursts into tiny balls, round them up and they meld into one larger one. I'm 56 and pretty darn healthy! I also remember getting a tube of gunk that you could squeeze out a blob, blow it up into a balloon and pinch shut. Probably was full of lead! How did we survive such 'unhealthy' childhoods!

— Ruthe

For sure!

When I was a grade-schooler, I belonged to an informal "science club".

We used to study various science topics and run low-cost experiments. One member had some mercury in a bottle that we put into a bowl and played with using our fingers, splitting it into smaller drops and then reuniting. We didn't realize then it wasn't a good idea! Maybe could account for some of my digestive problems now....?

— Steve

Mercury, lead, asbestos etc

I rubbed mercury on coins, made lead soldiers, and our home water pipes were lead. When I worked in a large lab for 2 years in my early twenties we mixed asbestos flour and water to insulate our equipment. The inside of our noses were white with asbestos. A friend of mine who had a similar background died 2 years ago from a heart attack unrelated to mercury etc. I am 80 with no known health problems.

— Nomar

Thermometers

When i was a kid, back before there were spirit thermometers, the various oil companies and insurance companies used to mail out desk calendars with little thermometers on one side. I would collect as many as I could, break them open, and chase the globs of mercury around for hours, rolling it around in my hand and across the floor. I had amassed a sizeable amount of Hg from several years of multiple calendars. The only warning I ever got was mom saying, 'Don't eat that stuff.'

— Rouxgaroux

Mercury

I am 80 so of course I touched mercury in chemistry lab. A great way to make silver dimes new and shiny

— C Bryant Moore

A thief got it in the end.

In high school chemistry, I accidently got in on a blue birthstone ring that was gold. It turned it silver. It stayed like that until a thief stole it when I was in college. Luckily, it was not a very expensive ring nor something I wore much. We were playing with the mercury on our desks at our teacher's suggestion when this occurred. There were no warnings about toxicity at the time (a long time ago).

—NANCYJMG

Mercury

Yes, in fact I knew a guy who was trapped in a vessel of Hg up to his waist !, his wellingtons where full and he could not move, before I helped to rescue him he fell over in 3 foot deep Hg, needless to say he didnt drown, in all it was a very strange experience and NOT to be repeated, he was fine after but his Hg in urine levels where well over the safe limits

— david bradbury

In Middle School

I had some in the palm of my hand for about five minutes when I was in middle school. Knowng nothing about it I had no idea why my hand turned red.

— Edgar

Have I ever touched Mercury

Darn bet'cha. It was every science teachers toy after blowing up magnesium in water. The danger in mercury is long term exposure to its vapor. Most chemistry rooms have a bead of Mercury flowing around their mop boards. Pull them up and wow, if the environmental agency saw that. I use to float a shot put in a half gallon of mercury until they sent in the boys from hazmat took my toy away. Now I just blow up magnesium. :-) Anyone know where I can get some phosphorus?

—epearsonjr

In primary school we each had some on our desk ALL the time to play with. When I worked in the University of Newcastle as a research Assistant in Chemistry i spent 3 years using Anodic Stripping Voltametry in researching certain compounds. I was always cleaning mercury, cleaning up small spills and a few times arrived in the lab in the morning to find the seal on the mercury storage container on the machine had broken and the floor of the lab would be covered with a fine layer of mercury- all of which I had to clean up. This was quite a few years ago before all the new OH&S laws, and this lab was completely internal with no exhaust fans. Yes I am still alive at 62 years old, but i do have a rare form of depression for which there is only ONE form of medication to keep it under control. I have lost my sense of smell, and so taste. Not sure if this is a result of that or working in chemicals laboratories all my life.

— Pamela

Played with mercury

As a middle school age boy we had an old oil burning boiler removed and in the removal was about a pint of liquid mercury. I asked for it and was given it. for months we poured it over our hands and arms, soaked our pennies in it so they looked silver, etc. I ended up majoring in chemistry in college as a result and taught it for 30 yrs. No known ill effects so far and I am nearly 60.

— Jon

Sure Did

When I was about 10, I broke a thermometer and cleaned it up with my fingers. I was also exposed to other poisons as part of university agricultural research. Now I have MS. I'm sure the poisons turned on my MS gene.

— Jean

Sure, lots of times

Like a couple above, we used to push it around. Mostly on our desks at school. I can't remember where / how we got it but I think it was in some sort of bottle and not a broken thermometer. We didn't smear it on pennies. That seems odd. We smeared it over dimes as that kept the same color but made the dime really shiny. This was back in the 50s and I don't remember anyone thinking it was dangerous. I also remember tossing sodium into water and taking phosphorus (?) out of water and letting it ignite as it dried.

— spokey

Broken thermometer

As a kid I loved playing with mercury I remember pushing the small spheres together to make a larger sphere. I was a child of the 60's and we were unaware of the dangers. I do not remember any warnings about mercury until maybe the 70's. I do not remember any problems that occurred at the time or since that time.

— Ann M

Yes I've played with it!

As a grade school kid back in the 1950's we always played with mercury. Loved dropping it on the desk into many tiny beads, then push them all together to form a bigger bead. Nobody told us it was bad.

—chuckles11

Mercury form drives toxicity

Mercury exists as a vapor (gaseous elemental Hg), as a liquid (elemental Hg), as a reactive species (Hg2+) and as organic methylmercury (MeHg). Form dictates toxicity. The most toxic is INHALING gaseous mercury. It goes straight to the brain and causes insanity. INGESTING liquid mercury is NOT very toxic. Any basic environmental chemistry text will say about 7% stays in the body, while 93% is excreted. Even if mercury continues to be ingested, it will not cause insanity but it could cause kidney failure. Popping a few balls of Hg from a thermometer into your mouth isn't a good idea, but it's not likely to hurt you. Bacteria transform inorganic mercury into MeHg, which accumulates up the food chain. Eating a LOT of HIGHLY contaminated seafood can cause nervous system problems in a fetus and infants. It is unlikely to harm adults. Inorganic and MeHg are METABOLIZED, with half life of about 70 days. Except for inhalation, only massive and continuous doses are toxic.

— Kendra_Zamzow

Mercury

I work on mercury for preparation of their salts, it is poisonous & and its salts are corrosive. 1st time i touch mercury when i am in class 6 from medical thermometer it is running like a ball like a small dew, mother say's don't touch it is poisonous but i touch many times.

— drashwani

Forgery

In school chemistry lessons we used to clean pennies with nitric acid and then 'silver plate' them with mercuric chloride solution by rubbing the solution on with our fingers. It made them appear to be half crowns (yes it's a longtime ago) so we could then go into the newsagent after school, buy ten cigarettes and still get change. So mercury and cigarettes from age 12 and I'm still here (I did give up smoking a long time ago.

—houghtong

Have you touched liquid mercury?

When I was a lot younger, we would take mercury and place a drop on a penny, then with our fingers, spread the mercury on the penny until the penny was entirely coated giving it a silver appearance. This was done several times by my brother and me. My father was a chemical engineer and he showed us how to do this. I never had any reaction either topically or systemically to the mercury. I did this about 60 years ago. I also love swordfish steaks, which are reported to have high Hg content. On another idea, I also made my own black powder and cannon (small 1/2 inch shot used). And I remember using DDT as an insecticide. Still alive and kicking.

—gemlover7476

oops

Several times during my childhood a mercury thermometer would break and my mother let me push the minute beads of mercury together (from all over the bathroom floor) and watch them eat each other and grow. It was fascinating. So now I'm brain-damaged?

— CRS

When I was a kid...

We used to take the mercury out of thermometers and put it into a glass bottle. We would turn the bottle and watch it move around and thought it was cool. We were around 6-12 in a group of kids that just hung out together. Back in the early 70s nobody cared what we were doing as long as we weren't fighting or in the grownups hair. When I got into high school I found out how dangerous it is. We knew it was poison but to us that meant we shouldn't eat it.

— Knittykitty

Sure!

As a child, of course! My mother even let us touch it, thinking it was a good science learning. And once in a class at school. But then, I'm ooooollllllddddd and nobody knew better then. My kids got the "don't touch it" lecture.

— Jone Lewis

Mercury is Deadly

Hi, I've always been warned since childhood not to touch Mercury, so never have. Over a decade ago science professor at US Davis passed a way from over exposure to Mercury in the lab. Also a very dear Doctor of chiropractic passed away in 2003 from having eaten sea food tainted with Mercury. It was very sad to see a once robust individual who had helped to restore my own health, waste with away with declining health over a period of 18 months. Still saddens me to think of him.

— Sukhmandir Kaur

Why?

I'm sorry, but I don't see why anyone would ever touch the stuff! People have known it is toxic for a long time. Seems like anyone alive who touched it must be terminally stupid. That's my opinion, anyway!

— Bea

Yes, I've touched it!

I had a gold ring on one time and accidentally touched the mercury drop with the ring. The gold and mercury reacted, permanently discoloring the ring.

— Anne

How To Dispose of Mercury Safely