Monday, January 03, 2005

Regularly Scheduled Program

Did you know that the mercury in a mercury thermometer is really real mercury? It sounds crazy, but it's true. We learned this a few days ago when Maia broke our mercury thermometer.

Why did I think it wasn't real mercury? It must have been one of those collective unconscious things that was totally wrong and that Snopes is in the business of debunking. I figured it was some new meta-metal that acted just like mercury, but without the harmful side-effects. After two frantic calls to the helpful folks at the local poison control center, we learned that yes, that mercury thermometer is full of the real thing.

Mercury is beautiful. Solid water, liquid silver. "Pick me up!" it says. "Play with me! Catch me if you can."

After Maia smashed the thermometer (who knows why? she's a thrower), Matt called the PC folks while I tried to herd the tiny pieces of mercury together with a piece of toilet paper. As I hustled the kids away from the fascinating material, Matt ran up the stairs and said, "They said pick it all up with some cardboard, put it in a zip-lock bag or a jar with a lid, and then we can throw it away."

Mercury -- you know, the stuff that renders drinking water and caught fish unpalatable for hundreds of years. Mercury, one of the top five Bush bugaboos. Quicksilver, that which wrecks gold and drives you crazy. In a zip-lock bag? Seriously?

"I said all the key words," Matt said. "You know, 'two-year-old,' 'not sure if she touched it,' 'smashed the thermometer.' I'm not sure if he understood the urgency of the situation."

So I called the PC folks myself. Not trying to undermine my husband, of course. We just didn't feel like we got the answer we were supposed to get, which I guess I was expecting to be something that involved a total lockdown of the southern half of our county, haz-mat suits and black helicopters.

But no, the guy at PC was pretty laid-back. "Even if she swallowed some, it's extremely unlikely to cause any problems," he said. "Now, if she got some in a cut, that's something to worry about. But it's highly unlikely that swallowing it will make her sick."

"Seriously?" I said. "So, about the floor where it spilled. Should I be all freaky about cleaning it, or...?"

"Nah," he said. "If you've picked it all up, just sweep it real good and it should be fine."

Mercury in a zip-lock bag. It's what's for dinner.


  1. I remember breaking a thermometer when I was about 3. Then playing with the mercury until my Grandmom figured out what I was doing. Like, really playing with it--picking it up, shmooshing it all back together...

    Of course, you've read my blog, so this information might not be making you feel better.

  2. Bwaa! So I've got that to look forward to? :p

  3. When I was a wee child I bit through a mercury thermomether when mom was taking my temperature. Let's just say that mom freaked out A LOT. Let's also say that I (in my own mind at least) turned out pretty well. ;)