Well as a young kid in the 50s I recall us playing with mercury sometimes. We would roll it around in our hands, and it was cool to coat copper pennies with it and turn the pennies silver. No cautions back then and I'm sure it's a health hazard to some degree.
The biggest risk from metallic mercury (liquid) is the evaporation of it into gas, and the inhaling of that. Still, caution should always be used when around it, of course.
But I wonder if the hazards and risks aren't overstated at times.
Personally, I think they are. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to clean up a spill if one happens, nor does it mean you shouldn't be cautious when handling it or a component containing it. But I do think that given all the things that are hazardous to us in our environment, mercury exposure is pretty far down the list. I am sure that our constant exposure to vehicular exhaust, and a host of other environmental contaminants should be of a much greater concern.
I recall the radon scare a while back, a natural occuring release from soil. Of well different times I guess.
We live in a toxic environment; yes, it was different times, but we shouldn't freak out over tiny things today. None of us leaves the room alive, anyhow...
While I attended High School, I would often do lab work for him. One afternoon I was cleaning pipettes for him. This consisted of sucking a brownish liquid as far into the pipette as I could, setting the pipette aside for about 20 minutes, and then pouring the liquid back into the container. While waiting, I asked my father what the brown liquid was. He stated, "chromic acid." I then asked what would happen if I accidently got some in my mouth while sucking it into the pipette. He calmly stated, "I probably couldn't get you to the hospital fast enough to save your life. Don't get any in your mouth."
Do you still speak to dad? Did he tell you to take caution with the cleaning of the pipettes before you started? Was he trying to kill you?http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromic_acidhttp://www.inchem.org/documents/icsc/icsc/eics1194.htmhttp://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npgd0138.html
Seriously - this stuff sounds waaaaaay nastier than mercury (though not quite as bad as hydrofluoric acid!); I'm not even sure you should have had your mouth anywhere near the pipette, to be honest (not too mention - just what was the pipettes used for to need such a thorough cleaning?)...
Years later I was in the lab when my father accidently dropped and broke an old mercury thermometer. He first ordered my out of the lab. He then, meticulously found and collected every last drop of mercury. Later, I asked him why we was so concerned. He replied, "Any mercury I didn't get picked up will evaporate. We'll breath it into our bodies where it gets trapped and causes problems for the rest of our lives."
Seems like your dad had some mixed up priorities: "Sure son, clean those pipettes by sucking up chromic acid into them with your mouth, but if a mercury thermometer breaks - OMGWTFBBQ!!!"...