[time-nuts] What would be the proper equipment and procedure?

William H. Fite omniryx at gmail.com
Sat Oct 29 09:09:09 EDT 2016

Bill, it isn't quite so simple as that. While handling and ingestion of
metallic mercury is ordinarily benign, inhalation of mercury vapor is not.
The vapor pressure of metallic mercury is quite low but even very modest
concentrations, which can readily occur at room temperature, can exhibit
significant toxicity when inhaled. As odd as it sounds, metallic mercury is
slightly soluble in water and aqueous solutions. Mercury in solution is
readily absorbed and quite toxic.

Organic mercury compounds (dimethylmercury, monomethylmercury, others) are
profoundly and generally irreversibly neurotoxic. Cf. Karen Wetterhahn,
Dartmouth College, 1997; Minamata Disease, Japan, 1956. Inorganic mercury
compounds exhibit a broad range of toxicities and some are corrosive.

I'm like you and your dad in that I played with mercury as a child. Mother
once gave me a pound of it for my birthday (yes, weird family). I, too,
have lived for many years since then. However, the fact that exposure to
even very small amounts of mercury vapor can result in subclinical neuronal
loss may explain why neither you nor I have ever been handed a medal by the
King of Sweden....

You're correct that people often overreact to the risk of mercury toxicity.
Many years ago, when I was the director of a large trauma center, a woman
came tearing in at midnight, accompanied by her husband and eight year old
son. Between hysterical sobs, she explained that she had found the boy
playing with a tiny blob of mercury. "Do something!", she screeched. "He's
going to die of Manny Mota disease." A resident helpfully remarked, "So
long as he sticks to the minor leagues, he should be fine." This caused her
husband to laugh aloud and doubtless provoked a domestic discussion later.

Moon suits are not necessary for the cleanup of modest amounts of mercury
but the suggestion that mercury in metallic form is a benign substance is
not correct. It should be handled with reasonable laboratory precautions
and kept out of the hands of children and mindless dolts. Unwise to use it
to determine gastrointestinal transit time, too, though that is a novel

Other Bill

On Saturday, October 29, 2016, Bill Hawkins <bill.iaxs at pobox.com> wrote:

> Ah, you might not have meant that for this list. You are a man of many
> talents.
> Dimethyl mercury has given elemental mercury a bad name it doesn't
> deserve. As a youth, I used it to turn pennies into silvery dimes.
> Father said he'd ingested a teaspoon to see how fast it would go through
> him. In his day, beryllium pliers were used around explosives because
> they were non-sparking. We both lived many years afterwards. People who
> don't understand the difference between elements and compounds insist
> that cleaning up after a broken mercury thermometer be done wearing moon
> suits. So it goes - as time goes by.
> Bill Hawkins
> -----Original Message-----
> From: time-nuts [mailto:time-nuts-bounces at febo.com] On Behalf Of Mark
> Sims
> Sent: Friday, October 28, 2016 10:26 PM
> To: time-nuts at febo.com
> Subject: [time-nuts] What would be the proper equipment and procedure?
> I don't know if it the proper way but I used a very nice fume hood.
> Measured the metals (high purity),  melted them in a quartz crucible,
> stirred with a quartz rod,  and cast it in a ceramic block with a spiral
> pattern machined into it with a ball mill. You don't want to contaminate
> the mixture with other metals, etc.
> That "Things I Won't Work With" article was about dimethyl cadmium, not
> metallic cadmium.  Reall Nasty Stuff.  Metallic cadmium and cadmium
> plating has been used for ages without killing too many people.  It's
> not something to take lightly, but I've had the pleasure of working
> around far worse things.
> For even more extreme nastiness check out dimethyl mercury... one drop,
> goes through rubber gloves like they aren't there,  sure-fire rather
> horrible death.   Derek Lowe's "Things I Won't Work With" series is some
> of the best reading out there...  Unfortunately,  I don't think that he
> is still doing them.  His old web site has disappeared.
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If you gaze long into an abyss, your coffee will get cold.

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