Monday, October 9, 2017

We're Hazardous

The moment when your neighbors wonder if you've got a meth lab in the garage.

"This is Fire Captain Chris, how can I help you?"

"Hi. My son dropped a mercury thermometer on our kitchen floor and it shattered. We looked on the internet about how to deal with a mercury spill and we tried some of the things we read to do but there's still mercury everywhere and the more we read the more we're convinced we are that we're going to die right now."

"First, you need to keep any kids and pets out of the area. I'm going to give you the number for the on-call County Hazmat Team. The hazmat crews are terrific. They'll take care of you."

While we waited for the hazmat team to arrive, I searched the web for information about mercury poisoning. Apparently the symptoms (insomnia, irritability, headache, decreased cognitive function) are indistinguishable from my regular peri-menopausal personality. We were screwed.

Two LA County Hazardous Materials trucks pulled up to the house. The Hazmat Team guys (Eric and Milton) measured the toxicity in the house with a machine called the "Jerome Mercury Vapor Analyzer." They Jerome-d everything in the vicinity including the inside of Mr. Rosenberg's car, where I had sent Bob and Mr. R and the dogs (after they touched everything) to drive around to keep them out of the way. Obviously I don't really understand how contamination works.

The car, miraculously, tested out okay but inside the house was testing high, as were my hands and face. I was able to fix myself up with hot water and soap. The rest took more effort.

Milton with The Jerome

Eric and Milton got to work. There was spraying and compound sprinkling and scrubbing and lathering and rinsing and repeating. In the meantime we talked about kids' sports and Nina Simone and I heard some cool hazmat stories. I also heard about the cost of remediation if they weren't able to get this stuff taken care of and I had to get a contractor to do it.

Covered in plastic. Just like grandma's couch.

They worked for over four hours trying to get the levels down. Finally, they covered the kitchen floor in plastic and said that the heat in the house would heat up the floor under the plastic to kill off more of the vapor. They returned the next day to take up the plastic and re-Jerome the area. At last, they gave us the all clear.

Eric and Milton, our heroes.

The fire captain was right, the hazmat guys were terrific. They were thorough and professional and kind. We gave them each a dozen chocolate chip cookies and our eternal gratitude. Only digital thermometers for us from now on.

Is it weird that I want my own Jerome?


  1. We could be like the old people on the beach with the metal detectors, except not. Why do Milton and (I already forgot the other man's name because of perimenopause) give me more hope than I've had in awhile? Maybe they could come over and hang out sometime?

  2. This was written with such humor even tho' it was a serious thing. I'm glad everyone is ok. I remember playing with Mercury in Chemistry class back in the day when they didn't know the dangers... and everything had lead paint... it's remarkable what we managed to survive back before we were aware of the hazards.

  3. Oh dear. I broke a mercury thermometer when I was about 14. There was no google then, so I cleaned it up as best I could with a paper towel. I probably poisoned my whole family at the time. No wonder we're all a little nuts, hahaha.

    But joking aside, I had no idea this process could be so extensive.

  4. As an on the sofa “sick” 5th grader I got bored watching the Hazel and Beverly Hillbillies reruns, broke the thermometer and played with the mercury. Next, I rubbed it all over the silverware to make shiny and boy was it every shiny. You were probably Eric and Milton’s favorite family ever.

  5. Mercury was a fun thing to play with when I was a kid. You could poke it into lots and lots of tiny balls and then swoop them all together again into one big blob. If you put it into a container with a penny, it would turn the penny silver. It was the same kind of "toy" as Silly Putty. Who knew....

  6. And to think that mercury was administered as medicine until the early 20th Century...and continues to be used today by some dentists (although its use has declined significantly in recent years, Thank God)!

  7. Did you have little chippy squares of asbestos you used with Bunsen Burners? The ones they pulled out after the Shelter Drill was over? Me neither.