The Herald Bulletin

June 26, 2013

Editorial: Discovery of mercury in Elwood home ample cause for caution

— Don’t mess with mercury.

It can damage your brain and trigger emotional and physical disorders. Mercury vapor is particularly dangerous, finding a quick route from the lungs to the brain. Liquid mercury can generally be ingested by adults in very small amounts without catastrophic effects, but small children can suffer life-altering side effects from swallowing it. Fetuses, too, are at a risk of birth defects and other health problems if their mothers inhale or swallow mercury.

Many Americans in their 40s or older might scoff at the presumed menace of mercury. They remember sitting in classrooms playing with the liquid form on their desktop or maybe at home on the dining room table. Look at me, they say, I’m fine.

Well, maybe. But mercury certainly had an untold affect on thousands of Americans before it became highly-regulated by the U.S. government.

Recently, about 25 ounces of liquid mercury was found inside a home in Elwood. Who knows how long the mercury had been there? The house had been vacant for as much as 20 years. People who recently purchased the home came across the mercury when they were cleaning the place up.

Then they did exactly what you should do it you ever come across the liquid, silver substance. They didn’t mess with it, but called authorities instead.

Mercury is still emitted into the atmosphere via volcanic activity and the weathering of rocks, but more often through mining and industrial processes. And, of course, it can be ingested through eating food exposed to mercury, such as some fish.

The heavy metal can also be found in some households, specifically in LED screens and florescent lights. It was also common in some items made more than 15 years ago. Such wares include light-up sneakers, novelty clothing, glass thermometers, pesticides and antique clocks.

“Quicksilver” can be cool to look at or to play with, but its effects can be devastating. Don’t be fooled.