- Why you Should Replace Mercury Thermometers
- Benefits of Switching to a Non- Mercury Thermometer
- Who Should Replace Mercury Thermometers
- How to Choose a Non- Mercury Thermometer that is Right for You
- Non- Mercury Laboratory Thermometer Purchasing Tables
Mercury can be found in a variety of non-laboratory items such as fluorescent light bulbs, thermometers, older pressure gauges, plumbing traps, manometers, barometer, thermostats, capacitors, and vacuum pumps. When mercury is spilled, it forms beads or droplets that can accumulate in the tiniest places. These droplets can emit vapors into the air that are unseen and odorless. Breathing mercury vapors can be very dangerous, depending on the amount inhaled and the length of exposure to the contaminated air.
Amount of elemental mercury in various items:
- Fluorescent light bulbs have 10 - 40 mg
- Thermostats have 10 - 40 mg
- Capacitors have10 - 40 mg
- Thermometers have 50 mg to 3 g
- Older pressure gauges have 3 - 10 g
- Plumbing traps can have 100 g to several pounds
The Chemical Management Committee (CMC) Mercury Reduction Policy recommends that all faculty, staff, and students participate in pollution prevention on campus. Product substitution is at the heart of pollution prevention and is a viable option for many types of mercury thermometers. In an effort to achieve a mercury free campus, the CMC strongly encourages individuals to replace mercury-containing devices with suitable non-mercury devices where feasible. Please examine your procedures that involve the use of mercury and evaluate the possibility of eliminating or at least reducing the use of mercury.
The Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, signed by Canada and the United States in April 1997, is an effort to reduce mercury, a Persistent Bio-accumulative Toxic (PBT) substance, in the Great Lakes . The Strategy sets a goal of virtual elimination of mercury from the Great Lakes Basin, with a U.S. challenge of a 50 percent reduction nationwide in the use and release of mercury by 2006 .
Eight states and fifteen municipalities have already enacted mercury thermometer bans, and eleven national retail chains have pledged only to sell mercury free thermometers. The Universities of Illinois, Michigan, Vermont, along with Northwestern, Stanford, Yale, and Harvard are taking a pro-active approach to reducing elemental mercury by eliminating mercury thermometer use in teaching and research laboratories.
What is the benefit to switching to a non-mercury thermometer?
Mercury thermometers break on a regular basis; the contaminated clean-up debris generated by a spill is considered hazardous waste and is very expensive to dispose of. Also, mercury vapors, which are colorless, and odorless, can expose lab and clean-up personnel to hazardous levels of mercury. REM personnel respond to mercury related cleanups on campus. These cleanups account for 75% of our spill responses.
We recommend all faculty, staff, and students using mercury thermometers find suitable non-mercury replacements. Non-mercury thermometers meet accuracy standards from the National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST).
Non-mercury thermometers can be used in most applications including, incubators, water baths, or other applications where mercury thermometers have been traditionally used. If your application requires a mercury thermometer for higher accuracy and precision then we recommend that the thermometer be Teflon coated to prevent spills when broken.
First, choose the appropriate thermometer by answering the following questions:
- What type? Partial or Total immersion?
- What scale? Celsius or Fahrenheit?
- What scale division is needed?
- What length does the thermometer need to be?
- What type of Application?
With these questions answered, you should now reference the "Non-mercury thermometer" spreadsheet to select the specific thermometer for your application . REM has used these preferred vendors, VWR Scientific Products or Fisher Scientific with success. You may go to their websites and search using the words "non-mercury" for more information.
Once your non-mercury thermometer(s) arrive, submit a Hazardous Materials Pickup Request (available as a web submission form, Editable Adobe Acrobat PDF or Microsoft Word Document) for your old mercury thermometers. REM will remove these from your laboratory so they may be recycled.
(for use in Refrigerators, Freezers, Incubators, etc.)
Partial Immersion Thermometers
(for use in Water Baths, Heat Blocks, Glassware, etc.)
- Call REM at (765) 494-0121 or Purdue Police at (765) 494-8221 (911 if an emergency) to report a mercury spill.
- Keep everyone away from the area of spill. Before leaving the area check for mercury on clothing and bottom of shoes. If mercury is visible on any articles of clothing or shoes, remove and keep those articles in the area.
- Keep the incident area under 70 degrees F to minimize the release of mercury vapors.
- Keep air flowing in the area. Close the inside doors of the area. If weather allows, open any exterior windows. Use fans in the area that pull inside air outside.
- If you or any other people have come in contact with the mercury, stay in the area so you do not spread the contamination.
- Contain the spill. Make sure the mercury does not move to drains, cracks, or crevices. If you leave the incident area, make sure your clothes and shoes are not contaminated with mercury.
- Never pour mercury down the drain
- Never burn mercury
- Never put mercury in the trash
- Never allow people whose shoes or clothing may be contaminated with mercury to walk around the room or into a hallway.
- Never use an ordinary vacuum or a shop vacuum to clean up mercury