In a lifetime of klutziness, I’ve broken lots of light bulbs, even a socket or two, usually with no ill effects other than finding that one last shard of glass three weeks later. Of course, those were normal light bulbs, as distinguished from the compact-fluorescent light bulbs (they’re not even bulbous, fercrissake) that are being forced upon us. Truth be told, I’ve made my peace with the CFLs, and I have six of them installed at the palatial Surlywood estate. But sooner or later I’m going to break one, and let me tell you, that little trace bit of mercury is genuinely nasty stuff, so I’m trying my darnedest to be careful.
A man and woman in southern Oklahoma were hospitalized with mercury poisoning last week after engaging in what officials said is a rare and dangerous science experiment using mercury to pull gold from electronic equipment, apparently for profit.
Geez, and I thought I was a loose cannon in chem lab. Get a whiff of this:
Gold is found in small amounts in some electronic equipment. To isolate the gold in the circuit boards, the couple put the boards on a frying pan on their kitchen stove, said Eric Delgado, on-scene coordinator for the EPA. They poured mercury over the electronics. Mercury attached itself to the gold and helped the couple separate the precious metal from the circuit boards. The couple then heated the gold-mercury substance until the mercury evaporated, leaving only the gold behind.
And being a vapor, the stuff went straight up their noses, and they wound up in the hospital. As Darwin Award contestants go, these folks are pretty run-of-the-mill, although they might score difficulty points: this was a lot more mercury than you’ll find in even half a dozen CFLs. As for their house, redoing the interior with lead paint might actually be an improvement.
Update: The man has died, and the house has been deemed “uninhabitable.”