Mercury-Thermometers: Collection & ExchangePrint Friendly Page
Glass mercury thermometers are a common item in many households, schools, medical facilities, laboratories and industrial facilities. The presence of a mercury thermometer itself is not a problem. However, glass thermometers may eventually break, releasing the mercury into the immediate area, or they may be discarded into the regular trash when worn out, releasing the mercury in the landfill or trash incinerator, or during transportation to either location.
Some U.S. states and municipalities have attempted to determine the contributions of individual mercury-containing products to the total mercury load in their solid waste streams. Mercury fever thermostats have been found to be a significant contributor to the total mercury load, normally ranking within the top three contributors. (Other significant mercury contributors are fever thermometers and fluorescent bulbs.)
In order to avoid the problems associated with mercury fever thermometers in homes, some states and municipalities have passed laws or ordinances prohibiting the manufacture, sale and/or distribution of these thermometers. As of August 8, 2001, the following states have laws that limit the manufacture, sale and/or distribution of mercury fever thermometers: Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Oregon. For information on municipal ordinances, see the Health Care Without Harm website in the links section.
Many organizations have held mercury thermometer collections and exchanges. The most common mercury thermometer collection and exchange programs have focused on mercury fever thermometers in order to remove the threat of breakage and subsequent mercury vapors from the home. Some state environmental agencies have also sponsored collections and exchanges of mercury laboratory thermometers from public schools. Some universities have offered collection and exchange programs for mercury thermometers from their own laboratories.
Mercury fever thermometer collections and exchanges are a good opportunity to raise awareness about mercury in general, about fish consumption advisories and about what can be done with other common household products that contain mercury. Some programs have included free digital fever thermometer replacements while others have included coupons for the purchase of a non-mercury fever thermometer. These programs have been sponsored by various groups, including federal and state environmental agencies, municipal waste water treatment plants, municipalities, health agencies, non-profit organizations, and companies. They have been held in many locations, including hospitals, pharmacies, town halls, libraries, and in conjunction with household hazardous products events.
The key to a successful public mercury fever thermometer exchange program is how well it is advertised. Efforts to publicize the event might include: a press release distributed to local newspapers and media outlets, a public service announcement (PSA) distributed to local radio and television stations, a paid advertisement in the local newspaper, a flyer to be mailed or otherwise distributed to the target audience, an announcement or featured program on local cable television or radio station, a poster displayed at various locations around the community, and information posted about the exchange on relevant websites. In general, distribution of materials to publicize the event should take place four to six weeks in advance.
There are many examples of programs to replace mercury laboratory thermometers. Some state environmental agencies (e.g., Minnesota) have collected mercury laboratory thermometers from public schools and replaced them with alcohol- or mineral spirit-filled thermometers. Arizona State University sponsors an on-going program offering free alcohol replacements for mercury laboratory thermometers. One scientific equipment vendor has offered free disposal of mercury thermometers when a facility purchases a non-mercury laboratory thermometer.