Mercury is an extremely toxic element used in instrumentation, lighting, electricity, and research. Its extreme toxicity makes the element rare in household/common chores.
Still, you may have to get elemental or liquid mercury for various reasons.
And working with anything toxic often exceeds the common health hazards. As it happens, you’re sure to ask yourself, ‘is mercury flammable’ at some point.
We decided to provide a satisfying answer with relevant facts and details to cover your question.
Can Mercury Catch Fire? is it flammable?
The answer is simple – elemental or liquid mercury is not flammable in its inert condition.
Surprisingly, the element still possesses severe fire hazards. There are many reasons to make the liquid reactive, combustible, and eventually explosive.
Mercury (Hg) remains almost inactive in normal temps. And you won’t find solid or gaseous mercury for any typical applications. Solid mercury is neither toxic nor flammable, but you can barely work it.
The chemically stable liquid only forms a limited number of compounds. Those are the substances that give you headaches about the potential danger of fire/explosion.
How is Liquid Mercury Flammable?
Exposing the elemental substance to a forceful active environment can form compounds. It requires the presence of a powerful oxidizing agent under high pressure and considerable heat.
Also, the project involved mercury can form an alkyl Hg compound to get exposed to powerful oxidizers. This chemical transformation will make the liquid mercury prone to fire danger.
However, neither option is exactly the practical way to make Hg flammable. These incidents can only happen in a laboratory or an industry while doing research or mechanical errors.
The simple way for mercury to become flammable is by getting mixed with a reactive metal. The fairly inert substance creates metallic mercury compounds that are combustible as well as toxic.
Again, the chemical change doesn’t require much atmospheric pressure or notably high temperatures. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to keep the metals away while working with Hg.
Combustible Reactivity of Mercury Compounds:
Mercury can react violently with the following but is not limited to compounds:
Ammonia, Oxygen, Acetylenic compounds, Boron Di-Iodo-Phosphide, Methyl-Silane, Ethylene Oxide, Methyl Azide, Tetra-Carbonyl-Nickel.
It’s also incompatible with well-known active metals. The list includes – Aluminum, Potassium, Lithium, Sodium, Rubidium, and Calcium. Even the metal oxides from the elements are highly flammable with Hg.
Again, there are several oxidants to trigger combustible reactions. Consider – Bromine, Peroxy-Formic Acid, Chlorine Dioxide, Nitric Acid, Nitromethane, Silver Perchlorate, Chlorates, Sulfuric Acid, Nitrates.
Is Mercury Explosive?
The material is barely explosive, not being flammable by itself. Still, Hg’s chemical reaction may cause a blasting explosion in out-of-control situations.
Super-heated condition is compulsory for the reaction to release explosive energy. Also, it takes a great amount of mercury itself present on the scene.
Therefore, your first course of action must include the removal of raw mercury. Withdrawal of the liquid can significantly reduce the chances of a sudden explosion.
Avoiding Fire Hazards of Mercury Compounds:
Mercury is one of the very two fundamental elements to remain liquid under normal temps. The melting point is -38.9°C, whereas its boiling point is 356.7°C.
You shouldn’t have any concerns while handling Hg for normal household uses. Still, careful handling is a must for the liquid material due to its vaporization.
And the vapor possesses lethal health hazards and potential chemical activity. Whether it’s liquid/gas – Hg shouldn’t be a mess under any circumstances.
High pressure and extreme heat can make any inert material chemically active. So, make sure your Hg doesn’t team up with those two conditions.
Extinguishing Fire from Mercury Compounds:
Fortunately, you can use almost any standard fire extinguishing measure on mercury flames. Speedy water spray, compressed carbon dioxide, dry chemical agents, and common foams can fight the fire.
At higher temperatures, mercury can form mercury oxide to worsen the situation. Whatever you do, pay attention to the heat sources to keep the exponentially increasing temperatures under control.
The burning place should get affected at around 350°C following the oxide’s formation. However, the Hg’s decomposition should start to occur at about 400°C. And it’ll lead to automatic put off of the fire.
It’s difficult to keep oneself calm during a fire breakout. But you must keep the fire away from active ground mixtures. A combo of sodium carbide, iron, lead, aluminum, and mercury makes up the mix.
Mercury Spill Management:
Spills are likely to happen one or way another, regardless of your caution. Hg spills should get attention due to their fire hazard.
Small or slight spills on any non-porous surface can easily be cleaned. Linoleum and hardwood flooring falls under the jurisdiction.
Using a mercury spill kit, you can take care of the spills by yourself. Also, hire professional lab personnel to neutralize the spills.
Good-quality spill kits are commercially available for purchase. You can make your own kit by getting all the necessary instruments.
Spills on porous surfaces like a rug, mat, or carpet become mercury waste. You just need to throw the waste from the premises.
But never use the regular vacuum cleanup to take care of the spills. Even using a broom is prohibited from cleaning the mess.
However, this can’t be the case for large-scale spills. Evacuate the entire room, space, or lab following high-level contamination.
Seal the spilled room to avoid the unwilling entrance of unaware people. Also, skip breathing nearby to avoid Hg vapor inhalation.
Immediately contact known chemical cleanup services for help. Or notify relevant authorities to send the contamination crew.
How to Dispose of Mercury Waste?
Mercury waste isn’t like regular household waste, no thanks to its toxicity. And likewise, you can’t take the risk of activating the materials for a fire hazard.
Store the mercury waste in a chemically stable container for disposal. You must contact the chemical waste services to avoid any hazardous situation.
Mercury is so toxic that even its waste gets different treatment from other hazardous waste. But it mustn’t let you forget about the fire hazard.
We believe to provide a complete answer to your ‘is mercury flammable’ issue.
There are sufficient facts and details to remind you of the substance’s danger. Avoiding Hg or any of its compounds is indeed the most secure way.