I can’t be the only one who played with a very toxic and pretty slippery and really cool element on the top of his desk when he should have been listening in class.
Is mercury recently spilled at a parcel delivery distribution center any more dangerous than mercury spilled from a school desk? I probably should have asked this question 45 or 50 years ago, when there was a specific reason to be curious.
But I didn’t know that they were going to spill mercury at the local package place back when I spilled mercury in my school.
It went under my desk someplace and then it skittered across the wood floorboards. It might have ended up under somebody else’s desk. Maybe it got as far as the coat closet. I really couldn’t look for it too long without it appearing to the education enforcement authorities that I was stealing time from general science class.
Don't roll your eyes
I can’t be the only one who played with a very toxic and pretty slippery and really cool element on the top of his desk when he should have been listening in class. This was a readily available hazardous waste. And it was far more fun, way more people-friendly than most toxic substances. It was really one of the cutest things you’ll find on the Periodic Table of the Elements.
Plutonium. Now that one would have been a difficult discovery in the ’50s and ’60s. That’s why you saw so few students building atomic bombs for science fair projects — not even the really bright ones, who polished the teacher’s apples in the front of the room.
But mercury was readily available. Getting your hands on mercury was as easy as stealing and almost immediately accidentally breaking the family thermometer. Really, it was an accident. I don’t know how it happened. It just slipped out of my hand. Honest.
Plus we had all sorts of games — mazes that tested your hand-eye coordination and your patience until you finally broke the plastic containing the maze, being careful to collect the silvery bubble of mercury in the palm of your hand. And you’d carry it to school in an empty pill container that you’d saved, I guess in case you ever came across any mercury.
Then, when general science lagged, you’d dump the mercury bubble out onto your desk and start batting it back and forth with your fingers. It was sort of scientific. Bat one way. Bat the other. Bat, oops, it went onto the floor. Mercury really is a quick little element.
Since those fun-with-a-dangerous-substance days, the guardians of our good health have decided that mercury isn’t particularly good for you to be fingering. Nice to know now. Would have been better to hear then. Granted, they probably told us when we were kids, too, but it wasn’t a period of my life when I was doing much listening.
I don’t know if it caused us any harm. None of us grew the kind of wings you see on a Mercury dime. And I’m not really worried, either, because it wasn’t as if we were batting around 16 or 17 pounds of the stuff on our desks, which was the amount that spilled at the package place.
You might want to be a little concerned if you live near an old school. A bubble here and a bubble there. It adds up. There may be a pound or so of mercury under my old school. I don’t know how disobedient you were in your school.
Contact Gary Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org