Mercury is a toxin that can affect the human nervous system and damage the liver and kidneys. Even small amounts of spilled mercury are a health hazard, because mercury volatilizes at room temperature and people may be exposed to toxic levels through inhalation.
Spilled mercury is also a concern because it contributes to mercury pollution of the atmosphere. Mercury in rain contaminates lakes, causing significant fish contamination. Even a small amount of mercury is a concern — the atmosphere brings about one gram of mercury each year (an amount equal to the mercury contained in one fever thermometer) to a 20-acre lake.
Information on the health effects of mercury exposure is available from the National Library of Medicine.
Who to call in case of a spill:
Call North Dakota Waste Management (www.ndhealth.gov/wm).
During normal business hours: 701.328.5166
Emergency response number: 1.800.472.2121
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers advice on what to do and what to avoid when mercury is spilled: Mercury Spill Information.