Mercury is one of the most hazardous metals, which pollute the ambient environment. Waste, containing mercury, is graded as class 1 of hazard, which is the highest one. Many people met this scientific truth in an early childhood, recalling their story of a broken thermometer and scared adults looking at nicely looking silver balls on the floor.
Demercurization is disposing of waste by extracting mercury they contain. This term became widely used not long ago, when the fluorescent lamps came into our lives. When this happened special mercury-containing waste treatment plants started to appear.
There is a demercurization plant in Cheboksary. "Mercury" company was founded in 1988. Now only companies have to cooperate with it. "That is because legal bodies have to report on lamps delivery", explains Alexander Shefer, director of "Mercury". It is hard for him to name all the companies, which signed the demercurization agreement. It's easier to name those who didn't. There are few of them, mostly these are small firms, which do not care of their reputation. "Such kind of saving harms the environment. Sometimes buried mercury waste is found in fields or in the forests. The responsible person will be fined. The found waste is delivered to our company", as director says these stories have the same ending. And the citizens still behave toward burned out lamps (fluorescent and other energy-saving type) according to their knowledge and sense of responsibility. There seem to be rules prohibiting throwing the lamps into "trash bins" and prescribing to hand them in to demercurization organizations. In case of violation of the rules, a citizen can be fined for a couple of thousand rubles. But as they say, "the severity of Russian laws is offset by their poor enforcement". Therefore, in this case, there is no state control over how to dispose of mercury-containing items in Russia.
Of course, those who have cars can quickly transport hazardous waste to "Mercury". Other people, who do not have their own car, will have to spend their time and money to reach the city's outskirts where the company is located. Why would they do it? "Those, who takes a proactive stance, will do it", said Alexander. He is also such kind of person; that is why not waiting for the orders from "above", he tries to organize a centralized public collecting point. Last year together with city ecology administration, he organized a campaign.
Three times with an interval of several month the "Mercury" truck went around the city along a special route informed to the citizens via Mass Media with an indication of stops and time of arrival. First time many mercury products were gathered. Second time – less products. And the last time – almost nothing.
It is a great plan. But we have financial issues: "Who will buy the containers? Who will compensate the recycling expenses?" For now, lamps received from public are recycled for free. But when the delivery will be organized, the plant will have to work on a fee basis, the way it works with companies. The first issue is easier to solve. The smallest container, produced by "Mercury" costs 6 000 rubles. It will be more than enough for two or even three blocks of flats. If this cost is divided among the residents, it will come to a mere penny and the residents will not refuse to donate to environmental protection. Interesting, but "Mercury" supplies these containers for the whole county from Kaliningrad to Yuzhnno-Sakhalinsk, they surely sold 1000 pieces. How is recycling going in the counties of post-soviet area? The situation is different from country to country. Tadzhikistan had the same situation but recently the government was rewarded a grant, and it has planned to spend it for global demercurization. They already ordered УДМ-30 equipment, produced by "Mercury". This means "modular demercurization installation for lamps with a capacity of 3000 items per day".
Alexander Shefer, director of R&D Mercury, LLC
Service companies buy containers for mercury containing lamps from us and place them at their sites. The access to the containers is limited, a service company employee will have to open and close the container while receiving the waste. We exchange the full containers according to timetable. Service companies will not need any permitting documents, this activities will be covered by "Mercury" license.
Anna Ilycheva, engineer-ecologist, works at "Mercury" for two years after graduating form Cheboksary branch of Russian state social university.
– I am mostly busy with papers – contracts, reports, although I like working with people. For instance, last year a mother and her son came to our company, the boy had a school project on recycling. I invited them to see how the process is going on. On installations, we have two ones, the lamp is broken, metal parts are separated immediately and broken glass goes to the oven. As a result of certain physical processes, we get the final product - pasty substance, a mixture of mercury with phosphor (luminous powder which cover the glass of fluorescent lamps). This paste will be sent to the company "Kubantsvetmet" where it is disposed. The mother liked the excursion, so did the lad, he was convinced that hazardous waste is not thrown away. I was surprised that today's children are so much aware of the pollution problem.
I noticed that more people started to call and ask what to do with a burned out mercury lamp, where to bring it. Before they worried only about thermometers.
To collect spilled mercury at home, do not use a broom, a mop, and vacuum. Use cloth, paper and a small brush; a medical rubber bulb (syringe) is the best choice.
Use gloves. Collected mercury is put into hermetically sealed containers and taken to the center demercurization. Ventilate the room immediately and wash the floor with 0.2-percent solution of potassium permanganate (2 grams per 1 liter of water) or iodine solution.
This treatment is carried out during few days, alternating it with hygienic cleaning with soap-soda solution (50 ml of both per 1 liter of water)
It is not necessary to dispose the rag; it is not dangerous.
Mercury itself is not dangerous, but its vapors are. During a long stay in places where the concentration of mercury vapors exceed the maximum permitted value (mercury MPC in the air equals to 0.0003 mg/m3), CNS is affected. The first signs of poisoning are fatigue, weakness, apathy, headaches, and dizziness. Then trembling of fingers, eyelids and lips may develop, that is so-called "mercurial tremor", also the changes in taste (metallic taste), tearing, discoloration of urine and diarrhea are observed. However, some vengeful and treacherous citizens continue to consider mercury to be a analogue of cyanide. Alexander can tell a few stories about pans with fried potatoes, "flavored" with mercury balls. But he particularly remembers a soup crock.
On a shared kitchen of one of the Cheboksary dorms someone put some mercury into somebody's soup. The owner of the crock found a "gift", while pouring the soup into the plates. The police officer, who arrived at the crime scene took the crock with its contents as evidence. About a month later this "nicely" smelling crock with the remnants of the soup was delivered to the "Mercury" for the disposal. All this time the evidence was kept somewhere in the police office, but certainly not in the refrigerator. Who will dare to put such a dangerous thing into a fridge? It seems initiation the criminal proceedings was refused. Otherwise the crock would remain in police much longer, poisoning the lives of people.