What Is a Mercury Vacuum?

Alex Newth

A mercury vacuum is like a general vacuum, except it is made primarily for picking up and recovering mercury, either as an isolated element or as contaminated particles. There is a long set of filters and parts in a mercury vacuum that assists in separating the mercury from the clean air and particles. Since mercury is not used in every industry, this vacuum is mostly used in labs, mines, dentist offices and manufacturing plants. Along with being able to pick up mercury, this vacuum can also be used as a general vacuum for picking up miscellaneous dirt.

A mercury vacuum is designed to retrieve mercury in isolated or contaminated form.
A mercury vacuum is designed to retrieve mercury in isolated or contaminated form.

It is possible to pick up spilled mercury with a normal vacuum, but a normal vacuum is unable to properly isolate the mercury and to clean the air. Mercury exposure can have very severe health effects, so a mercury vacuum is used to ensure mercury spills are cleaned up thoroughly and safely. The majority of these vacuums are able to pick up both elemental mercury — or mercury by itself — and substances contaminated by mercury.

Unlike a normal vacuum, a mercury vacuum comes with a lot of extra filters and parts to help clean up mercury. When the vacuum first picks up mercury, there is a bay that holds a large amount of liquid mercury. The mercury that cannot be held and the contaminated particles are pushed to the larger filters. These filters, which usually are made from carbon, suck up the liquid mercury and the mercury vapors. By doing this, the mercury is properly isolated, and the vacuum releases only clean air.

Mercury is common in many industries, but not all of them. While a mercury vacuum typically has other applications, it largely is used only by industries that commonly use mercury. This includes dental and doctor offices, mines, manufacturing plants and laboratories working with mercury.

A mercury vacuum normally is only used to pick up mercury, to ensure that its durability is not taxed by picking up miscellaneous dirt and other particles. At the same time, most mercury vacuums have all the parts needed to function as a regular vacuum, so it can be used for general applications if another vacuum is not available. If this vacuum recently picked up mercury, however, then it may be a good idea to be cautious, just to ensure that any mercury trapped in the vacuum does not accidentally contaminate the particles vacuumed up or the operator.

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