To describe mercury as ‘toxic’ is an overstatement

To describe mercury as ‘toxic’ is an overstatement


In late grammar school, I had a friend who had a lot of neat science stuff that was, unfortunately, left by his deceased father. Included were a very good microscope, a lot of biological specimens, a radiometer, a good telescope, a prism, and a lot of other “good stuff.” Among all that was a large bottle of mercury. He would bring a small bottle of the mercury to school to show everyone what neat things it would do. I had a penny that was completely covered with mercury so it looked like a dime. It was a great thing to show people. While that might not have been a good thing to do, it certainly didn’t do any harm. The fact is, the greatest danger from mercury is from organic mercury compounds (mostly in foods) that are easily absorbed and can do serious damage. To label metallic mercury as “toxic” is a gross exaggeration, if not absurd.

The recent panic over a small spill of mercury at Babcock School is a little hard to understand.

The most obvious explanation is that it is just a case of zealous bureaucrats trying to justify their existence and show the world how vital they are to every one’s well-being. The other explanation is that the school officials and others were afraid that they could be sued if any student got any kind of an ailment, however slight. If that doesn’t seem likely, just ask any doctor about malpractice insurance.

Another thing that is puzzling is why the front page article in The Sun said, “An ounce of mercury weighs a little less than a pound.” Which weighs less, a pound of feathers or a pound of mercury? The last time I checked an ounce was still a 16th of a pound.

Vic Arnold


Editor’s note: The ounce of mercury in the article referred to the weight of a fluid ounce of mercury as opposed to an ounce of weight or avoirdupois ounce.