|INFORMATION ON MERCURY
Mercury thermometers are both an environmental and a health and
safety problem. Broken thermometers are a potential source for injury
from the broken glass, as well as a chemical hazard from the mercury
in the thermometer.
Mercury has many toxic effects in the body. If a thermometer is
broken and not properly cleaned up, tiny droplets of mercury can
evaporate over time. When mercury vapor is inhaled, it enters the
blood and can damage the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver.
Children and fetuses are at special risk. Swallowing or touching
mercury metal is not nearly as toxic; so if a broken thermometer
is cleaned up properly and promptly, people will not be harmed.
In the environment, mercury falls with rain and snow, contaminating
lakes and streams and accumulating in the bodies of fish and wildlife.
Natural processes can convert mercury into methylmercury, an even
more dangerous form of the metal.
Mercury was used for many years in thermometers designed for household
use because no alternatives were available. However, this is no
longer the case. In July 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics
issued a policy statement about the health effects of mercury, urging
doctors and parents to stop using mercury thermometers and to dispose
of them properly.
DISPOSAL OF THERMOMETERS
Thermometers should be brought to a thermometer exchange or the
Knoxville Household Hazardous Waste Center in their storage cases.
If the case is not available or the thermometer is broken, the thermometer
can be brought in a 12-ounce plastic soda bottle with a screw-cap
In addition to mercury thermometers from households, other types
of mercury-containing waste such as old non-digital thermostats,
barometers, manometers and other household mercury waste or devices
can be brought to the Knoxville Household Hazardous Waste Center,
where they will be accepted for disposal during business hours.
The Household Hazardous Waste Center is free to residents of Knox
County and City of Knoxville residents only and is located at 1033
Elm Street. The Center does not accept material from businesses
or residents from outside Knox County. Additional information about
the Knoxville Household Hazardous Waste Center is available at 865-215-6700
Should a mercury thermometer break, parents and teachers are reminded
that they should NEVER use a vacuum cleaner to clean up the mercury.
It can cause tiny droplets in the air, increasing the danger of
inhalation, both immediately at the site and with any future use
of the contaminated vacuum. The State of Tennessee has a fact sheet
describing proper cleanup procedures for broken thermometers at:
ON-LINE RESOURCES ABOUT MERCURY POLLUTION
American Association of Pediatrics mercury statement
USGS Mercury in the Environment - Fact sheet that includes
toxic effects, risk to people, risk to wildlife, fish advisories,
sources of mercury, environments where methylmercury is a problem,
and mercury contamination - past, present, and future.
Mercury Contamination of Aquatic Ecosystems
Mercury Research in the USGS
U.S. EPA Mercury Website - Includes general information,
actions, fish advisories, and technical information
Mercury in the Environment - by Environment Canada
Mercury in Schools and Homes
South Florida Restoration Science Forum - Includes: Can control
of local sources reduce the risks? How will Everglades restoration
affect mercury risks? Can management of water quantity or quality
reduce the risks? Tracing foodweb relations and fish migratory habits
in the Everglades and mercury toxicity in the food chain. Also related