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From: rsiatl! (John G. De Armond)
Newsgroups: rec.guns
Subject: Re: Federal Ammo: Just say no
Keywords: mercury
Date: 1 Dec 89 23:36:28 GMT

In article <> (Ron Miller) writes:
>In article <> (Peter Cash) writes:
>>anyone known where to get mercury?  (Aside from breaking 1,000
>You can also probably get mercury at a gold-mining supplies store.
>It is used to amalgamate the very finest of gold particles in
>placer operations.

You can buy mercury from Fisher Scientific (headquarters 201 379 1400)
who have stocking warehouses around the country.  And yes, with a few
common sense precautions, you can use mercury as safely at home as any
other moderately toxic chemical.  (If you have used Draino and not blown
yourself up, you'll do OK.)  (I guess I'm a bit amazed that readers of
this group, who regularly deal with dangerous substances like powder and
primers have reacted so convulsivly to mercury.  The power of the popular
media, I guess.)

Now the bad part.  The cheapest grade of mercury, technical grade, is
$119 a pound!  Since by my calculations, it would take about 2 pounds
to fill the barrel and chamber of a .308, 24" long barrel, you are talking
about some serious money.

Now if you happen to have a few pounds sitting around, (I do) or have
a source, (I also do) then it will work pretty well.

The other problem you have to deal with is the fact that the mercury will
become loaded with dissolved metal after awhile.  All of the cleaning
methods (acid bath, distillation, electrolysis) are a hassle and
somewhat expensive.


From: rsiatl! (John G. De Armond)
Newsgroups: rec.guns
Subject: Re: Mercury
Keywords: mercury
Date: 8 Dec 89 17:05:57 GMT

In article <> (William B.
Thacker) writes:

>Hardly, John.  While mercury is, in most respects, safer than powder and
>primers, or firearms in general, that still doesn't make it a good choice
>for guncleaning.
>Mercury is highly volatile; it forms lots of vapors.  The vapors are dense
>and persistent; they tend to accumulate in low places, and stay around for
>a long time.

Hardly.  Check your CRC handbook for vapor pressure figures.  To put this
into perspective, consider that mercury used to be the media of choice
for diffusion vacuum pumps - units that achieve millitorr and below
vacuums, limited only by the low but finite vapor pressure.  Mercury
can form poisonous vapors in pathalogical situations - such as heating
it in a small, tightly closed room - a situation not likely to happen
when cleaning a gun.

>Mercury enters the body by inhalation, ingestion, and skin absorption.
>Mercury is highly toxic, and persistent in the body, so that if you absorb
>it as a kid, it'll likely still be with you when you retire.  The more you
>absorb, the worse it gets.

You are correct - for salts of mercury.  Elemental mercury is almost totally
insoluble in water - or body fluids.  There is some hazard in swallowing
elemental mercury because stomach acid will slowly form mecuric cloride -
a virulent toxin.  We can all agree to not swallow this stuff can't we?

>Symptoms of mercury poisoning include anemia, tremors, amnesia, colitis,
>dizziness, insomnia, blindness, pneumonia, anorexia, hallucinations, renal
>failure, and couple dozen others.  The OSHA limit for mercury (based on an
>8-hour exposure) is 1 milligram per cubic meter,  half that for long-term

I'm quite aware of the symptoms of mercury poisoning, having suffered it
in school due to a combination of a faulty fume hood and a leaking mercury
still.  I also know how far the gulf is between such acute exposure to
boiling mercury and the trace fumes from ambient liquid.  Incidently,
a chelation process will rid the body of mercury fairly rapidly - a few
days at most.  The experience is not pleasant, ranking right in there
with stomach pumping, but definitely not the end of the world.  Even
with acute poisoning, one is not destined to carry a body burden
for long.

>To put that in perspective, understand that for mercury in air, the
>saturation level is 20 times the OSHA limit. A 4 square-inch mercury surface
>exposed to air in a small, unventilated room can produce 0.2mg/m^3 vapor
>concentration in 5 minutes (Richard T. MacNerney, "Managing Mercury",
>in "National Safety and Health News," Jan. 1986),

yes, and if I boil that same puddle, I can saturate the air in a stadium.
Both statements are irrelevant to the discussion.  Small quantities of
mercury as would be used in a gun barrel would not even come close.
I have more than a little professional experience with this, having
spent much time in a lab working with large quantities of mercury while
wearing a mercury dosimeter.  Despite open beakers of the stuff, my
dosimeter always came back BDT (Below Detectable Threshold).

>John claims that "a few common sense precautions" allow safe use of
>mercury at home.  He should, at least, list these if he's going to
>encourage such a practice.  For example, John, what do you do if you spill
>your mercury, say, a teaspoon full dropped from the height of a table ?

I give the people of this group, people who safely handle firearms on a
routine base, enough sense to read the label on mercury.  I refuse
to be condesending enough to preach common sense.  First and foremost,
the label will state to use with adequate ventillation.  In most
people's house, that dictates a garage or outside.  Which makes the next
part moot.

>Answer: Ventilate the room by exhausting the air though an outside window.
>Continue ventilating for as long as possible (months).

Don't you see.  Your advice contradicts itself already.  Either mercury is
volatile which means it will evaporate rapidly or it is practically inert
meaning it will take months to evaporate.  The latter is, of course,

>Attempt to collect as much mercury as you can find; large puddles can be
>picked up with an eyedropper, smaller ones require a special vacuum device
>(DO NOT use your wife's Hoover !) and/or amalgamation in a copper brush or
>Then you'll want to get a mercury detector for that room, and possibly
>surrounding rooms, and keep an eye on that for a few years.   You should
>also get some mercury-absorbing material such as manganese dioxide, and use
>them like a solid air-freshener (like putting a box of baking soda in
>the refrigerator).
>From that height, mercury can splash virtually anywhere in the room; if
>it's a hard, smooth floor, droplets will roll everywhere, and find every
>little crack (say, between tiles, along the baseboard, etc).  If the room's
>carpeted, you'll have to get rid of the carpet; oh, and throw away the
>clothes you wore when you spilled the mercury and cleaned it up, as
>mercury likes to cling to many types of fabric.  You might feel obliged to
>have professionals clean up the mercury, but that'll set you back a few
>thousand dollars.
>Anyway, if you absolutely insist on the labor-saving convenience of
>mercury, please observe the following.  First, keep on hand a Mercury
>Spill Control Kit.  These can be had for $100 or thereabouts from
>laboratory supply houses such as VWR or Fisher, and contain a small vacuum
>retriever and some amalgamating compounds, plus instructions.
>Contact lenses should not be worn when using mercury.  Keep it
>away from acetylene and ammonia products; mercury can react with these
>to make shock-sensitive compounds.  Do not eat or smoke in areas where
>mercury is used.

Come on bill.  let's use some reason and proportion here.  This is the same
kind of pandering to emotion that the anti-gun nuts use.  Appropriate
precautions, such as double bottling (which you did not mention) and
use out of doors or away from foodstuffs is reasonable and intuitive
to most people.  But a mercury crash kit?  Really now.  Do you keep
a caustic crash kit next to the Draino?  Or an acid one near your
storage batteries?  How about an arsenic dosimeter near the rat poison?

The fact is we all live around and work with hazardous chemicals.  Shooters
in particular are exposed to a wide variety of hazardous materials such
as lead, antimony, arsenic, tin, gunpowder, primers, blueing chemicals,
and the worst of all in terms of injury rate - gasoline.

Yes, mercury is hazardous.  I don't want to diminish that fact at all.
BUT. It is only a moderate hazard, despite what the politically driven
EPA standard might say.  I handle mercury with the same caution I do
sulfuric acid, caustic soda, tolulene or smokeless powder.   The
problem I have with such fear mongering is that it destroys all sense
of reason.  We of all people as shooters should know that!  When
we get to the "ban them damn evil child-killing assault rifles" stage,
little reason can prevail.  People see "authorities" dressed out in
anti-Cs and breathing apparatus and cleaning up with crash kits for
a chemical they know by experience to be relatively harmless and they
tend to associate such extreme behavior with all kinds of hazardous
materials even those that deserve such treatments.

The radiation protection field has learned that lesson the hard way.
Used to be that anything with detectable radioactivity was labeled
as such and an area was marked off as a radiation area.  People
worked around and in these ares and began to realize that there
was no hazard associated with most such markings.  Which made them
ignore the few that DID demarcate hazardous areas.  We did everyone
involved a huge disservice with what we once thought were extremely
conservative practices.

If you really are afraid of mercury, then by all means don't use it.
Life's too short to worry about things you can avoid.  But then again,
I bet you don't call out the HAZMAT team when you drop a fever
thermometer either :-)

>OSHA requires annual medical checks for mercury levels.  I'd strongly urge
>anyone who uses mercury in any quantity (such as for gun cleaning) to
>have mercury level tests performed during your next checkup.

Consider the possible results of such frivilous testing.  Suppose it tests
negative, absolutely zero.  Most probable given the tiny quantity of
mercury involved.  People build up an indifference to the exposure
hazard.  Finally they discount the need for a test even after a real

Or worse, consider a real positive indication caused by occupational or
environmental contamination.  The shooter, lacking any objective decision
criteria other than the hyperinflated EPA hazmat statement,
then assumes the cause is his tiny quantity of mercury.  That hits the
garbage (which is bad in itself)  and all is well.  "No need for another
test", he says to himself, "I've eliminated the problem."  Meanwhile his
real exposure goes on unchecked.

To summarize:

Treat mercury as you would any other moderately posionous substance.  Read
the label and use common sense.  Avail yourself of all information
on the substance, giving due weight to the political aspects of government
advice.  Take appropriate precautions against exposure or ingestion.
store the substance safely.   As Bill said, keep it away from active
organics such as acetylene.  Also keep it away from nitrates.  Mercury
nitrates are moderately unstable.   And above all else, be sure and
shoot enough to need the stuff!!


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