View Full Version : Mercury Spillage at Belfast Airport

26th Apr 2004, 11:48

26th Apr 2004, 15:10
If the mercury got anywhere near the aircraft structure it is going to be expensive and the aircraft might even not be worth repairing.

26th Apr 2004, 16:20
The people taken to hospital ahve been given the all clear, says the BBC site.

Not sure of any damage to a/c though.

Lu Zuckerman
26th Apr 2004, 17:24
How did the mercury get on board the aircraft? Was it in someone’s luggage? If so why wasn't it detected by X-ray examination? If it was shipped as cargo why weren't the freight people warned about the mercury? Who is going to get pilloried for this infraction?

:E :E :confused:

26th Apr 2004, 18:07
As the mercury appears to have been transported on the flight and was discovered on arrival, wonder if the crew got any adverse compass indications during the flight.

I know mercury is a no-no aboard aircraft, but apart from the magnetism issue can one of our chemists here explain what is the problem if it is spilled on the structure. Is it corrosive ? Didn't a Far East operator have a widebody written off some years ago due to such a spillage ?

26th Apr 2004, 18:36
Mercury is a virulent poison that is readily absorbed through the respiratory tract or through unbroken skin. It acts as a cumulative poison since only small amounts of the element can be eliminated at a time. The present accepted threshold limit for Mercury in air is 0.05 mg m-3. (NB. air saturated with mercury vapour at 20°C exceeds the toxic limit by 100 times). High concentration of vapour may cause a metallic taste, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and headache. Chronic effects from continual exposure to small concentrations can cause severe nervous disturbance, insomnia, loss of memory, irritability and depression. Loosening of teeth, dermatitis and kidney damage are possible in severe prolonged absorption.

Mercury can react with ammonia to produce an explosive solid. It can cause severe corrosion problems because of its ease in forming amalgams. Reacts violently with dry Bromine.

Hatters were "mad" due to the effects of mercury vapours:8

26th Apr 2004, 19:35
Since mercury is a molten metal, many other metals including a/c aluminum dissolve into it.

The fluid will flow into seams and rivet holes and things will start coming loose:uhoh:

26th Apr 2004, 20:07
I always thought it was the glue-sniffing that was supposed to have made them mad?

Never met one though...

Lu Zuckerman
26th Apr 2004, 21:05
When mercury comes in contact with a metal it will form an amalgam which creates a localized hard spot. It alters the stress paths and forms a concentrated stress riser that can lead to cracks and or fractures. It is for this same reason that mercury thermometers can not be used on submarines.

Mercury although no longer in wide uses was used to amalgamate silver when used in tooth fillings. The mercury in combination with silver pellets is placed in a small container, which is placed in a “Wiggle bug” which vibrates the two metals until they are combined. The dentist will place this amalgam in a chamois. The chamois is twisted to remove the mercury and the remaining silver amalgam is put into the tooth. I’m not that smart, my brother is a dentist.

Molten metal????

:E :E

26th Apr 2004, 23:26
It is a metal, in the same group as magnesium, zinc and cadmium. It just happens to be in a molten state and evaporates at normal room temperatures. You can see the highly toxic vapor with UV light. It certainly amalgamates with aircraft alloys.
Where did this stuff come from? It is sealed in some lamp units, tilt switches etc as well as the more visible use in thermometers and barometers.
Was it on a HazMat list? If not, why not.

Lu Zuckerman
27th Apr 2004, 01:00
I'm sorry about my question regarding Mercury being in the molten state. I was thinking about molten equating to high temperature. I soon remembered my high school chemistry where we reduced Mecuric oxide to Mercury and oxygen by applying heat from a Bunsen burner.

I'll now retire to the corner and don my dunce cap.

:E :E

Agaricus bisporus
27th Apr 2004, 12:06
Baggage handlers taken to hospital!!!???

Sounds like the usual ridiculous British overreaction to a "virulent poison" - oh dear... What were they doing, licking the baggage hold clean???

Yes, mercury has some pretty unpleasant effects if ingested but then so do lots of other things. It is hardly a "virulent poison" though, and it certainly is not magnetic in any shape or form.

As Lu said, generations of schoolkids have reduced mercuric oxide over bunsen burners and suffered no ill effects - vapour visible in UV notwithstanding, I clearly recall regularly chasing globules of mercury around the Chem lab desks - the place must have been stiff with the stuff...But we did know to wash hands afterwards. Don't they do washing hands in belfast?

And I'm struck with the thought that it is a very good thing that there was no dry bromine spilled on board at the same time...just imagine! Perhaps they were just lucky and the bromine on board was wet...

I bet the company concerned has some engineering headaches now though, the corrosion issue is a very serious one, and as generations of us know mercury has an amazing way of scuttering off into distant corners and splitting into lots of tiny droplets that are the very devil to clean up.

27th Apr 2004, 14:36
total loss of a MAS widebody a few years ago due to mercury contamination, how often is mercury transported and how well is it flagged for the handlers??

28th Apr 2004, 08:28
Agaricus is bringing a degree of sanity to the discussion - is this allowed?

The ancient Romans actually ingested the stuff as a laxative......I knew a guy who in the course of medical experiments had a tube containing the stuff burst in his stomach, and he said that the ancient Romans certainly had an effective answer to constipation. Gave him a somewhat 'heavy' feeling!

I figure the real worry is, as so many have said, the corrosion problem.

28th Apr 2004, 08:44
As mentioned above, mercury causes massive structural problems once it comes in to contact with aircraft parts.

Biggest problem though is the extreme difficulty in tracing where it has come in to contact, and what parts are affected, and thus which parts are due to be repaired/replaced.

Apparently, this is exasperated by the fact that 'visually', there is no change to the metal, apart from, as mentioned above, the changes to its structure and how it copes (or not!) with stress loads.

Southern Air Transport had a B747Classic Freighter which they had to declare an insurance right off after a mercury spill (approx 1995/6). The aircraft subsequently re-entered service with ???? (Polar?) but this was subject to massive question marks as to whether it was fully repaired or not. Not sure what happened to it since...

A Sayers
28th Apr 2004, 16:09
Agaricus seems to be unaware of the significant hazard that can arise from chemical contamination. In my own case I am still significantly effected by such an event.

If individuals do not treat contamination with due caution they may end up with long term ill health or worse. Safety is suposed to be the bedrock of our operations, not a cavalier disregard for basic principles, common sense and the law.

Before going near a chemical, ask to see the COSHH assessment AND the Risk Assessment. Follow these guidelines. You also have the right to see the chemical manufacturers safety data sheet. Your employer may not know what they are doing or their obligations under the law. You and your passengers are the ones at risk, not someone in an office. I learnt this the hard way.

28th Apr 2004, 21:46
I'm not a chemist, but was a bit curious about the stuff after reading this thread. Quick googled snippet...

"Aluminum is normally protected by an oxide coating which inhibits oxidation. If that oxide coating is removed aluminum is a fairly reactive metal and rapidly reforms the metal oxide on the surface.

Mercury will not usually penetrate that coating but once mercury gets contact (by a scratch or nick) with the aluminum it can be devastating as the mercury dissolves an extremely small amount of aluminum and the aluminum in the amalgam reacts with moisture to form an oxide or hydrous oxide.

This latter reaction depletes the aluminum concentration in the amalgam so over there at the aluminum-mercury interface a little more aluminum dissolves and the reaction behaves like an aluminum pump. The process is kept active because the mercury
is preventing the fresh surface from forming the protective oxide

Even though there is very little aluminum in the amalgam at any given time the process keeps kicking a small amount of aluminum from the metal to an oxide."

:uhoh: :uhoh:

29th Apr 2004, 11:10
"Socks plus sandals equals beard!"

the mad doctor on the fast show, dr denzil dexter?

Realise its no help to a facinating subject and confirm it was a MAS a/c that was written off due to hull loss concerning the leakage of mercury, think it was A330

Back to the lab now

29th Apr 2004, 12:47
It seems there is some detail about the Malaysian A330, 5 years old at the time, that had to be written off after chemicals were spilled here:


Not certain what "hydroxy quino-line" is, presumably a mercury compound.

29th Apr 2004, 13:05

Appearance: white crystalline powder
Stable. Combustible. Incompatible with strong oxidizing agents, many metal ions. Readily forms chelates (http://scifun.chem.wisc.edu/chemweek/Chelates/Chelates.html) .

Harmful by ingestion, inhalation and through skin contact. CNS stimulant. There is evidence that this material can cause cancer in laboratory animals. May act as a mutagen in humans. May act as an irritant.
Toxicity data
(The meaning of any toxicological abbreviations which appear in this section is given here (http://ptcl.chem.ox.ac.uk/MSDS/toxicity_abbreviations.html) .)
ORL-RAT LD50 1200 mg kg-1
ORL-MUS LD50 20000 mg kg-1
IPR-MUS LD50 43 mg kg-1
SCU-MUS LD50 84 mg kg-1
UNR-MAM LD50 1000 mg kg-1

Personal protection
Safety glasses and gloves. Adequate ventilation

The Physical and Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory
Oxford University Chemical and Other Safety Information

eastern wiseguy
29th Apr 2004, 14:02
So what happened to the aircraft? Has it been removed from service?

29th Apr 2004, 14:55
Last I heard about the a/c from a ground worker was that it was to sit for 72hours.

I'm not sure where it is now :(

29th Apr 2004, 14:55
Hydroxyquinoline may be nasty stuff, but it has nothing to do with mercury, so the MAS reference here is a bit of a red herring.

(that is until someone tells us that herrings are red because they have ingested too much mercury.........)

29th Apr 2004, 15:04

I think this could be about the aircraft mentioned above, It talks about damage to an Airbus A310.

29th Apr 2004, 15:08
Seloco - Bit harsh, all chemical spillages during transit on an a/c are valid points on this board, arnt they.

The MAS A330, as far as I know the a/c was a considered a hull loss and believe was broken up.

The bit pertaining to the MAS a/c and this incident which Seloco hasnt thought about and is valid is the safe carriage of hazardous chemicals / goods on a/c. This could of been a very nasty incident with loss of life through ingestion through the skin and secondly that the a/c may be a hull loss.

29th Apr 2004, 15:09

Hydroxyquinoline "eats" Aluminium in a similla manner to that of Mercury.

Hence the destruction of 9M-MKB.

29th Apr 2004, 15:09
Mercury has a similar devastating effect on gold - works its way through the grain boundaries and makes it brittle.

When I were a young lab assistant, I used to be the favourite of young married girls who came to me in tears because they had got mercury on their wedding or engagement ring.

Caught in time, a quick burst of a bunsen burner gets the ring up to 296 degrees and removes the mercury. I'm not sure it would work with a whole aeroplane though.

29th Apr 2004, 15:43
Sorry Chillwinston - I had no intent to criticise, but merely to respond to your post that said:

"Realise its no help to a facinating subject and confirm it was a MAS a/c that was written off due to hull loss concerning the leakage of mercury, think it was A330"

Hydroxywhatsit is undoubtedly vile stuff but it is an organic compound that one might reasonably expect to be nasty, rather than a somewhat bizarre liquid metal like mercury with which one used to play in misguided innocence in one's youth.

And believe me as an all too frequent pax I give great and continuous thought to the many things that might be lurking beneath the floor, and hope that they are indeed properly packaged and contained.

I've also learned through several years of enjoyable pruning that there is rarely such a thing as getting off thread - even the introduction of red herrings as a red herring is fair game, methinks!

29th Apr 2004, 20:19
Eatern wiseguey,
I didnt understand the other threads, but in reply to yours, the ac was decomtaminated by an external specialist team before being moved to company HQ where it is being subjected to 'whole body Xrays'.
Flybe is perhaps the major structural specialist on the 146 (outside Bae) and there is no chance that the ac will return to service without a proper 'fix'

29th Apr 2004, 22:31

Nasty stuff but requires either prolonged exposure through inhalation (eg old dentists who got poisoned through poor procedures) or ingestion of contaminated food (Japan 1960s)

Sorry but being required to gather the stuff up is stupid but likely not to be s significant risk.


Who went to dental school many years ago

30th Apr 2004, 02:23
Just remember that rescue of wedding rings is best done with at least a fume hood if not a fume cabinet.

Exposure to mercury at room temperature is not that toxic as many high schoolers and their science teachers have demonstrated over the years.

As before said ingestion is not recommended.

Exposure to mercury fumes is a very poor idea, especially long-term.

Mercury compounds are very nasty, especially methyl mercury which has been implicated in Minimata disease in Japan and Northern Ontario.

Minimata like symptoms have been found in people who have eaten pork fed on seed grain treated with methyl mercury to prevent eating by insects and other small creatures.

7th May 2004, 18:02
Apparently the aircraft, G-BTUY is to be scrapped. I think they've flown it somewhere to strip it before scrapping the airframe.

7th May 2004, 18:35
Yes they were my fellow work colleagues,stripped down to underwear and given nice rinse down.The aircraft in question like mentioned G-BTUY a 146-300 is being scrapped as far as I know speaking to the engineers.Initially wasn't allowed to be moved for 72hours.It has departed to be stripped of all valuable bits and bobs.

7th May 2004, 18:46
Lets not start unsubstantiated rumours!!

The aircraft in question, was flown to EXT following clearance, where it underwent full x-ray inspection and investigation.

The aircraft was out of service for approximately 3 days and was only authorised back into service once exhaustive checks had been carried out. The volume of mercury was very small, however all was done to ensure the safe operation of the aircraft prior to it's return to service.

The airframe is fully serviceable and has been fully intergrated back into Flybe's fleet since it's inspection.

7th May 2004, 20:14
The Southern Air 747 that had the mercury spill years ago was an old Flying Tigers -200 N806FT. Polar flew it till 2003 and to the best of my knowledge is now being flown by Kalitta.

8th May 2004, 02:56
Since we're talking chemistry, sprinkling powdered (pure) sulfur on a mercury spill is a good way to contain the small droplets and keep the mercury from vaporizing. (Or from reacting with the aluminum in the airplane.)

Yes, methyl mercury can be very nasty stuff, but it takes months to do anything, and most liquid or vaporized elemental mercury, even if ingested, won't turn into that. (Still, it is a good idea to avoid direct contact and to keep the area well ventilated.)

"Mad Hatters" did go mad from Mercury, but that's because they worked with it day in and day out to make hats (it was used to prepare felt.)

As to what it does to the aluminum, I'll leave that to the engineers...

Disclaimer: Just my opinion!