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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I’m not sure where to post this so am putting it here. I have a mechanical question and an interior body question. I had a mercury spill in my 2017 Forester. Not sure how much - maybe a few teaspoons but it sprayed out and was so bad the Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources staff who responded to my call said don’t drive the car for at least 3-4 days, leave it in the sun with the windows cracked, and if possible run the car some with the heater on. They are coming back in 4 days to get a reading and see if it is down to an acceptable level (for those of you that are knowledgeable the machine reading was 43,000 and after vacuuming in the 20k range (I think ng/m3?).

So after they left I turned the car on, turned the heater on, and left it running for about 90 minutes. Today the sun was shining with temps in the 80s so I didn't run the car with the heater on. So my first question - is it ok to leave the car running with the heater on for extended periods of time? And for how long? I'd like to run it for a while in the mornings while it is cool.

My second question has to do with removing the carpet and perhaps the rear seat. The spill was in the back floor behind the driver’s seat. If the reading is high on Monday, the next step is to cut out the carpet and see if that improves it. If not, then it’s possible that it seeped into the back seat cushion. Or heck, maybe the driver’s seat. I assume I can get another driver’s seat. Could I also get the backseat replaced? Any guess to the cost if that is required? And any tips on cutting out the carpet - I assume a box cutter/carpet cutter is the best tool.

If you’re wondering how a 69 year old retired librarian had a mercury spill, I was transporting some motorcycle accessories to the buyer of a bike, including a carburetor synchronizer (which I had never heard of). It must have leaked or something popped off when I reached in to remove it. I didn't know this device contained mercury so it was a big surprise! Thank you for any tips or information!
 

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Firstly, I would NOT think running the heater is a good idea. If there’s Hg mist or air-borne particulates, it’ll now be spread throughout the cabin. It will obviously concentrate on the filter media, but the forced air will likely result in its spread.

Also, Hg is a heavy METAL. What is running the heater supposed to do? Something is missing in this story.

To answer one of your questions, you can run your engine to operate the heater for forever. It does not matter. The additional possible fuel dilution and warmup wear will be negligible.

I would pay someone else to remediate this. Let them don the tyvek suit, respirator and whatever to else, and clean every inch of the interior. If I had kids (grandkids, in your case) to worry about I‘d get it cleaned as much as possible and dump the vehicle. At your age I‘d at least consult a Dr to determine my risk from low-level exposure. Exposure in kids is much higher risk than adults, FWIW.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
@gathermewool Thank you - good idea about consulting a doctor. Heat is supposed to make it vaporize faster - so sitting in the sun with the windows open is the plan for now. The team from the state vacuumed for about 2 hours and nothing is visible except for what is embedded in the carpet.

I'll try not to worry about damaging the engine. And if no one else posts I'll call the local dealer's body shop and ask about removing the carpet. I haven't examined it of course. I have a friend who has a 2016 - maybe I'll take a look at her car. Thanks again.

Oh - and I did turn off the recirculate air setting when I had the heater running - but I probably won't do that again. It is going to be hot today and tomorrow.
 

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@gathermewool Thank you - good idea about consulting a doctor. Heat is supposed to make it vaporize faster - so sitting in the sun with the windows open is the plan for now. The team from the state vacuumed for about 2 hours and nothing is visible except for what is embedded in the carpet.

I'll try not to worry about damaging the engine. And if no one else posts I'll call the local dealer's body shop and ask about removing the carpet. I haven't examined it of course. I have a friend who has a 2016 - maybe I'll take a look at her car. Thanks again.

Oh - and I did turn off the recirculate air setting when I had the heater running - but I probably won't do that again. It is going to be hot today and tomorrow.
You may want to contact a specialized hazmat service company. Mercury, as you noted, is very volatile but will condense on any cool service and since it is very dense will migrate to the low points in your car. Luckily it is hot in your area, but I wouldn't drive the car or let anyone else be in it until the levels of Mercury are down to background levels. Mercury poses both immediate and long term health issues especially with growing children.

I was a chemistry teacher on knocked off the wall a mercury barometer. About 20 - 30 mL of mercury hit the vinyl floor. We had to evacuate the room and the next rooms over and call for some specialists to clean the rooms and then monitor the mercury levels over the next few days. Luckily it was all cleaned up by the next day
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
You may want to contact a specialized hazmat service company. Mercury, as you noted, is very volatile but will condense on any cool service and since it is very dense will migrate to the low points in your car. Luckily it is hot in your area, but I wouldn't drive the car or let anyone else be in it until the levels of Mercury are down to background levels. Mercury poses both immediate and long term health issues especially with growing children.

I was a chemistry teacher on knocked off the wall a mercury barometer. About 20 - 30 mL of mercury hit the vinyl floor. We had to evacuate the room and the next rooms over and call for some specialists to clean the rooms and then monitor the mercury levels over the next few days. Luckily it was all cleaned up by the next day
The car is parked with the windows down about an inch and has been that way since Thursday afternoon. I am working with the MO Department of Natural Resources Environmental Emergency Response Team. They are trained in mercury removal and have the monitoring equipment needed. They are coming back on Monday and may remove the carpet if the level isn't low enough by then. I was hoping someone on the forum had removed carpet - I'll try searching on that term. Thank you!
 

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I worked hazmat spill response for a private company about 10 years ago.

Our vacuum costs around 5k, you don't want to be using a household vacuum on this.
Surprised they left you on your own to handle this, a mercury spill isn't something you should be doing on your own - especially in a confined space like a car.

One of our clients was Washington Gas, their regulators contained mercury and they had on spill in one of their vans, after 8 hours stripping out the interior we couldn't get the readings low enough to allow someone to drive it.

Never found out what they ended up doing to it.

A few days isn't enough. When they come back and take a reading, it might read low because the windows have been open. Then you shut the windows and the Mercury you missed starts to evaporate and the readings go right back up.

Don't take this lightly. I never dealt with the money side, but I don't think we would have charged to much to take a pid reading in a situation like this.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I worked hazmat spill response for a private company.
Our vacuum costs around 5k, you don't want to be using a household vacuum on this.
Surprised they left you on your own to handle this, a mercury spill isn't something you should be doing on your own - especially in a confined space like a car.

One of our clients was Washington Gas, their regulators contained mercury and they had on spill in one of their vans, after 8 hours stripping out the interior we couldn't get the readings low enough to allow someone to drive it.

Never found out what they ended up doing to it.
No, they didn't leave me to do it. The team from the state office (with the proper safety clothing, proper vacuum, and monitor) spent about 6 hours at my house and are coming back on Monday. They will cut the carpet if needed and then after it is removed, check the level, etc. If they can't get the levels low enough then I guess I'll have to junk the car. And I don't think my car or home owners insurance will cover this. I'm hoping that the estate for which I was transporting the things will cover it if it comes to that. Good to know about your experience which will prep me mentally for this worst case scenario. Thank you.
 

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No, they didn't leave me to do it. The team from the state office (with the proper safety clothing, proper vacuum, and monitor) spent about 6 hours at my house and are coming back on Monday. They will cut the carpet if needed and then after it is removed, check the level, etc. If they can't get the levels low enough then I guess I'll have to junk the car. And I don't think my car or home owners insurance will cover this. I'm hoping that the estate for which I was transporting the things will cover it if it comes to that. Good to know about your experience which will prep me mentally for this worst case scenario. Thank you.
Ok misread it. At first I was kinda of shocked thinking they left this on you.

I'm not 100% sure, but I think the van did get scrapped. When Mercury is dropped or spilled it breaks up into 100's of little balls and likes to roll every where. If it got under the carpet, good chance it rolled into seams etc. and you'll never get it all out. That's what I think happened in the van.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
they're giving the OP the cheapest/easiest method to remove it. It helps the Mercury evaporate and get it out of the vehicle.
They vacuumed all that they could - and are hoping that this will remove the rest of it before removing interior parts of the car. But it sounds like that didn't work for OTT.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Ok misread it. At first I was kinda of shocked thinking they left this on you.

I'm not 100% sure, but I think the van did get scrapped. When Mercury is dropped or spilled it breaks up into 100's of little balls and likes to roll every where. If it got under the carpet, good chance it rolled into seams etc.l. and you'll never get it all out. That's what I think happened in the van.
Good to know about the seams - I don't know if it's under or not but if removing the carpet doesn't work, that may be the problem.
 

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And I don't think my car or home owners insurance will cover this.
I don't see why you car insurance wouldn't cover it as long as you have full coverage. If it's a total loss, it shouldn't matter if it is flood damage, a crash, or hazardous waste damage. Stuff happens, that's why you have insurance.

It doesn't hurt to try. Taking a loss on a 2017 vehicle is a substantial amount to lose. Especially with the value of used cars these days.

If I had kids (grandkids, in your case) to worry about I‘d get it cleaned as much as possible and dump the vehicle.
It's on record with the State that the car has been contaminated. You really can't sell it without notifying the buyer. If the there are people that get sick down the road, and it is traced back, guess who is going to be liable, if there was no full disclosure. And I'm sure readsbooks has better morals than that.

Best thing is to turn this into your insurance company and let them pay for everything.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I don't see why you car insurance wouldn't cover it as long as you have full coverage. If it's a total loss, it shouldn't matter if it is flood damage, a crash, or hazardous waste damage. Stuff happens, that's why you have insurance.

It doesn't hurt to try. Taking a loss on a 2017 vehicle is a substantial amount to lose. Especially with the value of used cars these days.


It's on record with the State that the car has been contaminated. You really can't sell it without notifying the buyer. If the there are people that get sick down the road, and it is traced back, guess who is going to be liable, if there was no full disclosure. And I'm sure readsbooks has better morals than that.

Best thing is to turn this into your insurance company and let them pay for everything.
I do have full coverage - I still have a few payments left!! I'll certainly give it a try - thanks for the encouragement!
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I worked hazmat spill response for a private company about 10 years ago.

Our vacuum costs around 5k, you don't want to be using a household vacuum on this.
Surprised they left you on your own to handle this, a mercury spill isn't something you should be doing on your own - especially in a confined space like a car.

One of our clients was Washington Gas, their regulators contained mercury and they had on spill in one of their vans, after 8 hours stripping out the interior we couldn't get the readings low enough to allow someone to drive it.

Never found out what they ended up doing to it.

A few days isn't enough. When they come back and take a reading, it might read low because the windows have been open. Then you shut the windows and the Mercury you missed starts to evaporate and the readings go right back up.

Don't take this lightly. I never dealt with the money side, but I don't think we would have charged to much to take a pid reading in a situation like this.
Thank you for the tip about shutting the windows. I think I'll close the windows the night before. They are coming about 8:30 Monday morning. There won't be any sunlight since it will be evening. Do you think that's enough time for it to build back up if there is some left?
 

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Thank you for the tip about shutting the windows. I think I'll close the windows the night before. They are coming about 8:30 Monday morning. There won't be any sunlight since it will be evening. Do you think that's enough time for it to build back up if there is some left?
That's a tough call. I stopped doing that kind of work in 2006, so my memory on the details is fuzzy.

If they say it's safe on Monday, might just ask if they'd be will to take another reading in a few days after the windows have been up and it's gotten warm out.

I wouldn't drive it until that 2nd reading.
 

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Oh man, here in Arizona, where it's super dry and 110 degrees right now, that mercury would be gone in minutes. 😁 Joking aside, I'm sorry this happened. What a hassle. I hope you will get it sorted out quickly and safely.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
It is a hassle for sure. They took readings yesterday and it was still high (around 5,000) which meant there were some beads left. Rather than cut the carpet we took out the back seat (that was easy!) and it's baking in the sun. They took off the plastic panel or cover over the door sill and pulled back the carpet and found a few beads and vacuumed those up. It's going to bake some more (it will be really hot here this week) and they will be back Friday. We may cut the carpet out if it's still high. I have opened up a claim with my insurance company in preparation for the worst-case scenario of junking the car. Of course mercury spillage isn't listed in the policy, so the agent is having her supervisor look at the policy. I hope to hear back from them today. I'm lucky that I have a friend who has loaned me a car to use for a few weeks. If I have to get a new car, that will be a hassle too! The local dealer is expecting two Foresters in (Touring, 39k - has all the bells and whistles). And a sport model which I would not want.
 

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I know this is hardly a consolation, but I'm a big believer in lessons learned. And while it doesn't really help you directly, I appreciate you sharing this with the community. It's reminder for me to be much more diligent about what I store where. I never gave any thought to it, and something like this may have happened to me just as likely. I'll be cognizant about transporting stuff that can potentially create spill hazards in a confined box in the trunk, or not at all. So if nothing else, your experience really helps others.
 
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