Mercury containing devices are banned from municipal solid waste disposal. Awareness of the problems with mercury (Hg) has increased greatly thanks to the statewide thermometer exchange program and other initiatives. Items you might have around your home that may contain mercury include:

  • thermometers with silver liquid;
  • thermostats;
  • gas-fired appliances;
  • fluorescent light bulbs (including compact fluorescent light bulbs);
  • button-size batteries;
  • dairy barn manometers; and more

Products with mercury in them should not be thrown in the trash. The Windham Solid Waste Management District (WSWMD) accepts thermometers, thermostats, barometers, mercury switches and compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL’s), free of charge to residents

The Problem with Mercury

Mercury is harmful to human health and the environment. Inhaling mercury vapors or consuming it through contaminated fish or birds, can damage the nervous system, brain, and reproductive system . Children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable to mercury poisoning.

Fish and loons often have elevated mercury levels in their bodies. When mercury gets into surface waters, it is transformed by aquatic microorganisms into methyl mercury. Methyl mercury is bioligically retained in the organisms much more easily than elemental mercury. Then the methyl mercury “bioaccumulates” as bigger creatures eat lots of little creatures. The animals at the top of the food chain, like fish and loons, therefore have accumulated the most mercury–that’s why there are fish consumption advisories in New England and loons die.

In the past, felt hat makers used mercury while making their hats. Their exposure to mercury lead to the deterioration of their brain and left them “mad” . Hence the expression, “mad as a hatter”.

For more information about what’s happening with mercury in Vermont, visit the web page of the Mercury Education and Reduction Campaign.

What to do with a Broken Mercury-Containing Device

If you break a mercury thermometer (or have any sort of mercury spill), it’s important that it be cleaned up.

  • Immediately after the spill, keep all people and pets away from the spill area. To minimize the mercury that vaporizes, turn off any heaters and turn up any air conditioners. Ventilate the area by opening windows, when possible, and leave open for at least two days.
  • NEVER USE A VACUUM to clean up a mercury spill. Not only will the mercury contaminate your vacuum, the heat from the vacuum will evaporate the mercury, further distributing it throughout the house. Similarly, never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will only distribute the mercury into smaller beads, and will contaminate the broom.
  • Useful items for the clean up include latex gloves, an eyedropper, two stiff pieces of paper, a flashlight, and duct tape or packing tape, and a container you can seal like a wide-mouth jar or large zip-lock bag. Remember that any tools used for the clean up should be considered contaminated and disposed of with the mercury.
  • Remove all jewelry and watches as mercury will bond with the metal. Put on gloves to minimize your contact with the mercury.
  • Use the flashlight to locate the mercury. The light will reflect off the mercury beads and make them easier to find. You can use the stiff paper to push beads of mercury together. Use the eyedropper to suction the beads of mercury, or use the paper to carefully lift the beads into the container. Pick up remaining beads of mercury with sticky tape. Place all the items you’ve used into the container and label it as mercury waste. Then bring it to one of a Hazardous Waste collection for proper disposal.