The Official End of Sanity

From Q and O:

CARMEL, N.Y. (AP) - It was quite a New Year's Eve at the home of
Richard Berger in Carmel - in Putnam County. Someone in the house broke
a rectal thermometer and the family called 911 around 10:30 to report
the small mercury spill.

Several dozen volunteers [the headline says 100] from the Carmel Fire Department responded to the house on Brookview Drive.

Fire Chief Darryl Johnson says mercury is a hazardous material that can cause stomach problems if inhaled.

Men wearing protective gear used wet sponges to clean up the puddle.

It was packaged and brought to the Carmel firehouse where the county health department will dispose of it today.

The Berger family was not hurt.

I remember breaking a few thermometers when I was a kid.  You took a piece of paper, creased it into a cup shape, and used the edge to pick up the little blobs without touching them.  I still seem to be alive today.  I am sure those little blobs are buried deep in some landfill now, a ticking time bomb for future generations.  And people wonder why gas prices are so high.  A country this panicky over a fraction of a gram of mercury will never let a new refinery get constructed.


  1. Scott in SF:

    My grandfather was a dentist. He used to give me mercury to play with when we visited. I poured it from hand to hand, blew it around on the floor with a straw, etc. Still alive 44 years later.

  2. Scott in SF:

    My grandfather was a dentist. He used to give me mercury to play with when we visited. I poured it from hand to hand, blew it around on the floor with a straw, etc. Still alive 44 years later.

  3. Kyle Bennett:

    In my high school chemistry lab, a couple of the ne'er-do-wells used to intentionally break thermometers so they could race the little balls of metal across the floor, which due to the age and lowest-bid construction, were not quite level. Nowadays, the entire student body of the school would all be on the curb every other day while the bunny suits scoured the cracks in the cement floors for noxious poisons.

  4. BobH:

    I can recall as a kid playing with the mercury from a broken thermometer.

    Health-consciousness (see "obesity epidemic") is getting to paranoia levels. Have you noticed the number of supermarkets that are putting wipes dispensers near the shopping carts? The idea is that it's dangerous to touch a handle that someone else has touched. Sheesh!!

  5. Ray G:

    Wow. Really. . . . Just wow.

    I think I'm going to go break a thermometer now.

  6. civil truth:

    I'm not sure the last time I've seen a mercury thermometer on sale; they only seem to have these battery ones that don't work for more than a few times. Our health care center carries these beeping electronic versions too; no mercury ones there either. I guess the liability lawyers have managed to banish these from the public venue.

    We still have one thermometer left at our house (a relic from the Ice Age, I think) that I zealously try to protect from breakage. Anybody know where to find mercury thermometers?

  7. Myrtle:

    Sounds like this could be an episode of "Monk"

    Next time I get one of those corny singing Christmas cards containing a button battery (mercuric oxide) I'll be sure to get HazMat to come out and handle it.

  8. RDH:

    A couple of years ago a kid at a local middle school brought a vial of mercury to class. (Big deal. I did the same thing when I was his age.) He opened it on the bus, letting other kids play with mercury and unavoidably spilling some.

    At school, other kids spilled more mercury. A concerned teacher called the local fire department, which started cleanup efforts. This consisting of capturing and containing the mercury.

    Then some moron called the EPA...

    They advised evacuation and sealing the windows and doors and turning up the heating system. (News reports indicate this was an effort to ascertain that the spill was cleaned up, but in fact it simply vaporized whatever remained, severely worsening the contamination by mobilizing the mercury.)

    The school was down for weeks with furniture, personal items and the school bus itself condemned as hazardous waste. The final permissible level of mercury at the school was brought down to the level of exposure that one might have from a dental filling, with attendant cost.

    There is no evidence that anyone has been harmed. However, lawsuits are expected and will likely go on for years.

    Much later, I spoke to one of the fire department hazmat responders involved in the cleanup. I asked him about the procedure for decontaminating the site of a house fire where old mercury switch thermostats were present. He told me the procedure consists of shutting up and never calling the EPA.

  9. Jeffrey Quick:

    And to think they used to treat syphillis with that...

  10. Rob:

    Is the End of Sanity synonymous to the "Death of Common Sense" ?

  11. Craig:

    We shouldn't be giving ideas to all those students out there looking for an easy way to get out of school.

  12. Mike Schneider:

    So let me get this straight: I all need to do to get government property condemned or shut down for weeks is to accidentally let loose a few blobs of mercury -- and then call the EPA? where can I buy this stuff in 55-gallon drums?

  13. Brad Warbiany:

    civil truth: I know I had a glass mercury thermometer for homebrewing. It was calibrated to head up to boiling temps, so it probably wasn't quite good enough for taking your temp. And then I accidentally dropped it, so now I've got a metal one :-(

  14. JW:

    I came across a show on The Science Channel today, on the building of the Jet Blue terminal, I believe in NY, and I saw a clip where a machine excavating the ground for somethingorother came across an old fuel line buried underground.

    Evidently, previous lines they found had asbestos insulation on them. So, all of a sudden, there is this big drama as one of the supervisors is concerned that this line has asbestos insulation also and the operator of the excavator isn't stopping his digging. The narrator actually said something to the effect of "...and spreading the toxic material all over the work area." Turns out that it didn't have the insulation after all.

    But they treated asbestos as if it were nerve gas or smallpox, as if being exposed to asbestos fibers **outside** for mere **seconds** would instigate some biological massacre of the workers. Oh, the horror, the horror.

    It's really embarrassing when the Science Channel, the SCIENCE Channel, has scientific illiterates working for them. I doubt I'll take anything they broadcast in the future seriously.