Cleaning Up Mercury From Thermometer Dangerous

People's Pharmacy

People's Pharmacy Joe And Teresa Graedon

August 10, 2009|By Joe and Teresa Graedon

Question: : The other day, I had a fever and was taking my temperature. When I was shaking my thermometer, the bottom broke off, and it spilled down the sink drain. I was too sick to do anything about it that day.

Today, I am feeling better, and when I searched the Web for ideas about disposal, I got freaked out. What should I do about the mercury that went down the drain?

Answer: : This is a serious situation, because liquid mercury from a thermometer can release mercury vapors that are toxic. They also can get into wastewater and cause dangerous pollution.

The mercury is probably caught in the U-shaped trap under the sink. A plumber could help you clean out the trap into a bucket. If you opt to do this yourself, though, be sure to wear disposable latex gloves. After removing the trap, empty the contents into a bucket. Carefully pour off as much water as you can and then use an eyedropper to pick up the mercury. Put it into a zip-top, sealable plastic bag. Seal the eyedropper in a separate bag and take both to a hazardous-waste collection site.

Your experience underscores the importance of eliminating all mercury-containing thermometers. Try a digital thermometer.

Question: : My 88-year-old husband was prescribed Ambien for insomnia. After the first dose, he fell while getting up to go to the bathroom, gashed his head and had to go to the emergency room for stitches.

A year later, I gave him a half-dose (again prescribed), and within minutes, his legs collapsed on him. I had the hardest time getting my 6-foot-5-inch giant into bed.

Answer: : : Your experience reminds us that sleeping pills may pose a serious risk for older people who have to get up at night to go to the bathroom. This is a dilemma, because many seniors suffer from insomnia.

Even over-the-counter sleep aids that contain the sedating antihistamine diphenhydramine (Advil PM, Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, etc.) may contribute to unsteadiness and urinary retention. Older people should be careful with sleeping pills like Ambien. Other side effects may include reflux, next-day memory impairment, dry mouth and dizziness.

Question: : I found that by applying solid antiperspirant to my bikini area following shaving, I have no bumps or irritation.

Answer: : Thanks for the tip. Bikini bumps are called pseudofolliculitis barbae and result from emerging hairs curling back under the skin instead of growing through it.

Washing carefully before shaving and using a product such as Hydroglide or Razor Rash Relief helps soften hair for easier shaving and prevent post-shaving irritation. After shaving, 1 percent hydrocortisone cream also may reduce inflammation.

Question: : For about 20 years, I suffered with annual bouts of poison ivy, even though I knew how to identify it and never touched the stuff. Finally, I found a homeopathic remedy that has made my life much better every summer. It's called Rhus tox. I take two pills under my tongue twice daily for a week in March, then again for a week in April.

It's an infinitesimally small dose (because it's homeopathic) of poison-ivy extract, and it works like an oral vaccine. You take it before the leaves come out, so the timing depends on your climate. The hardest part is remembering to take it in the spring.

If I am exposed to poison ivy in the course of heavy weeding in my garden, I may get one or two small poison-ivy blisters. They don't spread, and they go away quickly.

I used to need steroid shots, prednisone pills and cortisone creams a couple of times a summer. Tecnu soap helps, but the Rhus tox has been a godsend.

As a nurse practitioner, I knew homeopathic medicine would be diluted enough to be safe. I doubted it would be effective, but it has been very helpful for me.

Answer: : We appreciate your testimonial. The efficacy of homeopathy, like that of home remedies, can't be explained scientifically. As you noted, it should be safe. Avoiding poison ivy whenever possible is always the most effective solution.

Question:: I have suffered from foul-smelling armpits as far back as I can remember. I have tried every deodorant on the market to no avail, as well as vinegar, baking soda, milk of magnesia and alcohol.

I decided to try Listerine, as I'd seen it in some comments on your Web site. I was worried that I would smell before the day's end, but I was actually fresh when I got home. That just doesn't happen, trust me. Listerine is the way to go!

Answer:: This old-fashioned mouthwash has no antiperspirant activity, but perhaps the alcohol and herbal oils (thymol, eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate) kill germs and fungi well enough to prevent an unpleasant smell for hours.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or e-mail them via their Web site at

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