Liquid elemental mercury is actually not that dangerous by itself, it doesn't absorb into the skin very well. It's also very, very dense. Denser than most solid metals. Coins float on it, as does this brass weight. It's very heavy, a 2 liter jug of mercury weights more than 50 pounds (23 kg). You still don't want to ingest it or get it in any open wounds though, and the invisible vapor it puts off is also something to look out for, but generally keeping it cold helps with avoiding that problem. If you were to have a pool or an ocean of liquid mercury, and a good enough balance, you could stand on liquid mercury floating only down to your shins.

The dangers of mercury come from the fact that it does a thing called bioaccumulation, and this is because once organic mercury compounds are in your body, they're much harder for the body to excrete than it is for your body to get more of it. This is why the higher up you get in the food chain, the more mercury concentration there is. Organic compounds of mercury are significantly more dangerous than the elemental stuff too, since they have a much easier time entering through the skin. Methylmercury specifically is toxic and is formed by microbes that form it from inorganic mercury. Dimethylmercury especially is even more dangerous, volatile, and toxic. It famously killed a chemist in 1997, 10 months after she had been exposed to only 2 drops of it through her disposable latex glove.

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Liquid Mercury off-gasses mercury vapor at room temperature, and that gas is opaque to UV light, so under a blacklight its shadow becomes visible. Here, a petri dish of liquid mercury has its lid removed and the vapor is easily carried around by the movements of the air. The vapor is also significantly heavier than the air, so it tends to sink down to the ground, but it is also easily disturbed by something as simple as just walking past it. It gives off even more vapors at higher temperatures, and less at lower temperatures.

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Mercury doesn't absorb through the skin, the vapor however is where it gets into the body. Although less toxic than organic mercury, mercury vapor exposure over a long period of time can become dangerous because generally once it's in your body, it's not going to go away quickly. It just builds up in the brain and kidneys, causing developmental problems for fetuses and other neurological problems. Organic and inorganic mercury, once in the body, have similar, awful health effects. If you ever find yourself in the position where you have to clean up liquid mercury, you should never use paper towel or vacuums, because that just splits it up into smaller droplets that themselves continue to off-gas.

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It shouldn't come as a surprise that since mercury bio-accumulates, and is created naturally by various microbes, that fossil fuels contain contaminants of mercury. When coal is burned, loads of sulfur oxides are created and normally scrubbed by chemically leaching the coal or by passing the exhaust gasses through scrubbers, but these processes are not great at dealing with mercury (or uranium for that matter). Even after these processes, 70% of the mercury content of the coal will be expelled into the atmosphere as elemental mercury vapor. Coal fired power plants, which still produce more than half of the US's power, also produce lions-share of ambient atmospheric mercury in the US.

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@starwall TBH I want to see what happens if somebody simply *mixes* liquid elemental Mg and liquid elemental Br.

@hoppet that would be a very cool and quite risky bit of furniture to have around

@starwall what if you made it out of like a giant seamless bladder with a single point for injecting the mecury maybe it could be viable... uh if you ignored the actual challenge of getting that much mercury in the first place

@hoppet it also would weigh more than a solid block of steel of the same size, so

@starwall I heard about that story a few months ago and it haunts me

@starwall All I can think of right now is Dr. Coomer enthusiastically exclaiming "CHUG-A-LUG, GORDON!" because that's exactly the sort of thing that madman would tell Dr. Freeman to drink.

@starwall "COME ON GORDON, IT, IT'LL GIVE YOU SUPER ASTROLOGY!" - Tommy probably

@starwall It'd be so incredibly useful if it weren't so damn toxic,,,

@starseeker @starwall but enough about the internet, how about that mercury

@starwall Another fun fact about mercury I recently found out: it was the first superconductor to be discovered!


@starwall yeah, but would Saturn float in it??

@starwall *standing shin-deep in a swimming pool of mercury* this fucking sucks

@starwall Theres a pretty big chunk of materials that people consider dangerous (and are) that are just “you’ll probably be fine just try not to eat it”

@starwall including radioisotopes used in RTGs which people like to freak out over for some reason

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