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April 30, 2001

Hazardous Mercury-Containing Necklaces From Mexico Showing Up in Northwest Schools

Mercury-Containing Necklaces From Mexico Pose Health HazardPortland, OR (SafetyAlerts) - Mercury-laden necklaces from Mexico that are showing up in Oregon are a potential health hazard, warn public health officials at the Oregon State Department of Human Services.

The colorful necklaces are often on a beaded chain, cord or leather strand with a glass pendant filled with liquid mercury, and they may also contain brightly colored liquid. They come in various shapes such as hearts, bottles, saber teeth and chili pepper. The pendants are fragile and can easily break, spilling liquid mercury.

"Vapor from spilled mercury is highly toxic," says Michael Heumann, environmental epidemiologist at the DHS Health Division. "We want the public to understand this jewelry contains enough mercury to be dangerous to human health. We're concerned because we have already received a report of one necklace breaking in a classroom at a southern Oregon school."

Heumann says that if a pendant breaks, the spilled mercury vaporizes quickly at room temperature. When the vapors are breathed in, mercury enters the bloodstream and may cause headache, cough, chest pain or tightness, and difficulty in breathing. If there is a lot of mercury in the air or exposure occurs over a long period of time, there can be nerve, brain and kidney damage.

"Whether at school or home, mercury spills of any kind should be treated as a hazardous spill," Heumann says. To clean up a small amount liquid mercury, such as from a broken necklace or thermometer, he advises the following:

  • Remove children from the spill area.
  • Turn the thermostat down and open windows for ventilation. Close the room off from the rest of the house or building.
  • Avoid skin contact. Wear vinyl or neoprene gloves when cleaning up a spill.
  • Cleanup with a mercury spill kit is advisable. The kit contains material that binds mercury droplets and prevents spreading. Kits are available at safety supply stores (see yellow pages under "safety equipment").
  • Mercury beads can be picked up with sticky tape or an eye dropper, or use a rigid sheet of paper to roll beads onto another piece of paper.
  • Carefully transfer mercury droplets into an unbreakable plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and place into a secondary container, such as a zip-lock bag. Use a flashlight to detect any missed mercury.
  • Never sweep with a broom or wipe with a cloth or paper towel, as this will scatter the mercury droplets. Never use a vacuum, as this will spread mercury vapors into the air and permanently contaminate the vacuum.
  • Never use household cleaning products. They may react violently with the mercury and release toxic gases.
  • Take the container and contaminated clean-up materials to a hazardous waste collection center that accepts mercury. The local county solid waste company or the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, 1-800-RECYCLE (732-9253), can provide disposal information.

Information about the necklaces can be found on the web at: or call the Health Division, Ken Kauffman at 503-731-4012 or Marilyn Scott at 503-731-4025.

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