How to Dispose of Mercury Thermometers

Mercury thermometers used to be the widely-used type of thermometer, but things have changed, and thermometer manufacturers have moved on from them. Owners of mercury thermometers now want to get rid of them in preference for the latest types of thermometers, which raises the question of how best to do it.

It is essential to safely dispose of mercury thermometers if you are planning to move on with thermometer manufacturers or if your mercury thermometer no longer functions well. This post will discuss the best ways to dispose of mercury thermometers and keep your environment safe from disaster.

Why Should You Dispose Of Mercury Thermometers Safely?

@Kelly Brookman Bollinger

It is essential to dispose of mercury thermometers safely whenever you need to because their glass can break if you do not handle them cautiously, and the mercury in them may get out.

So, is this a big deal? Not so much until you realize the danger in releasing hazardous waste to the environment. When you do not handle mercury well, it can pollute the surrounding air in your environment and cause harm to humans and animals.

According to Chester County, each mercury thermometer contains 0.5 to 1.5 grams, and only 1 gram of mercury is enough to contaminate a 20-acre lake. Once a body of water becomes contaminated with mercury, it is no longer safe for drinking; neither are the fishes in it suitable for consumption.

Ways to Dispose of Mercury Thermometers

The world is moving on from mercury thermometers to safer types of thermometers. If you want to make that move or get rid of your old mercury thermometer while it is still intact, do not worry. You can follow the tips below to achieve the date disposal of mercury thermometers.

Before we begin, you should know that disposing of an intact mercury thermometer differs from a broken one.

Disposing Of An Intact Mercury Thermometer

Below are the steps you should take in disposing of whole mercury thermometers.

Ensure The Thermometer Contains Mercury

Before you decide on ways to safely dispose of your thermometer, check if it contains mercury or not. Thermometer manufacturers no longer use mercury, so it is essential to know the contents of your thermometer first.

To be sure it does not contain mercury, check the body of your thermometer to see if “mercury-free” is printed on it. If there is no “mercury-free” indication on the thermometer, then the chances are high that it contains mercury.

Beware of keeping a thermometer that contains mercury in your regular garbage bin with other household wastes. This practice is unsafe and illegal in some parts of the United States.

Keep The Mercury Thermometer In A Plastic Container

Disposing of hazardous wastes requires proper safety precautions, and one of the ways to ensure it with mercury thermometers is to seal it in a plastic container. Your choice of the container should be one with a tight-fitting lid. 

Also, the suitable container for disposing of mercury thermometers must not be too big for the thermometers themselves. Here is why. 

An enormous container can make the thermometers unstable while moving it and become more likely to break, especially if there are many. You can use the smallest available container if you have a few thermometers to dispose of, but while it should not be too big, it should be big enough to contain the container. 

Disposing mercury thermometers with a container may also be an opportunity to dispose of the container itself.

Label The Container 

Like other hazardous waste, you should label the container containing mercury thermometers to warn other people that will come in contact with it. An inscription like “DANGER – CONTAINS MERCURY” will alert everyone that will handle it of its content.

Dispose Of With A Hazardous Waste Collection Site

EPA classifies mercury thermometers as hazardous waste and what better way to dispose of such waste than with a hazardous waste collection site. Hazardous waste collectors are professionals in the disposing of hazardous waste, and you do not need to worry about how or where they are taking the waste.

Don’t know any hazardous waste collection site close to you? Earth911 is a website where you can find mercury disposal sites. You can also check out the official website of the Thermostat Recycling Corporation to find safe places to dispose of mercury thermometers. After locating a collection site close to you, you should call them ahead to know the best time to drop off the waste. Remember that some collection sites may take the mercury thermometers to disposal for free, while some may charge you for it.

Dispose Of With Medical-Healthcare Centers

Some medical health centers like hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, doctors’ offices, etc., may be willing to help you dispose of medical care wastes. These organizations may have related wastes they dispose of themselves, and it can be cost-cutting to dispose of your mercury thermometer with them. 

This method may not always be applicable as not every hospital or pharmacy will have the capacity to dispose of other people’s household wastes. In contrast, some others may charge some fees for disposing of it. Making inquiries from a medical center before taking the mercury thermometer is advisable.

However, if you find a medical health center that can take the mercury thermometers from you, you may also try disposing of needles or expired pills with them.

Participate In Mercury Thermometers Exchange Programs

Another way to dispose of mercury thermometers is to participate in a mercury thermometer exchange program usually organized by some universities and medical institutions.

These programs may exchange one for one; you provide your old mercury thermometer and choose a brand-new, non-mercury replacement.

If this sounds good, check for more information at West Virginia UniversityTemple Universityand Marquette University, or browse the internet for more options.

Disposing Of A Broken Mercury Thermometer

If you discover your mercury thermometer is broken, disposing of it becomes inevitable, and you should be more careful as it is more threatening than an intact mercury thermometer. 

Here are the steps to clean up a broken mercury thermometer while ensuring your safety.

Put On Protective Wears

When you notice a broken mercury thermometer, you should first protect yourself and the people around you. Before you begin the clean-up, put on a face mask and rubber cleaning gloves, and ensure other unprotected people – especially children – leave the premises to avoid exposing them to mercury.

Pick Up Pieces Of Glass

Pick up pieces of glass around the floor, setting each piece on a paper towel. Pick up the larger pieces of glass before going for the smaller ones to make the work easier for yourself.

While picking up these pieces of glass, be careful not to cut the gloves. It is not best to use a vacuum cleaner as it can spread mercury into the air.

You can check out our post on how to dispose of glass

Gather The Mercury Into A Cardboard

After picking up the pieces of broken glass:

  1. Gather the mercury into small balls with the aid of cardboard.
  2. Sweep the mercury and gather it in the cardboard, which should be held at a 45-degree angle to the ground.
  3. Avoid using a broom because it could spread mercury around the room.

Collect The Mercury With An Eyedropper

With an eyedropper you do not intend to use anymore, collect the mercury and squeeze it onto a damp paper towel. Squeeze the eyedropper and set the tip to make significant contact with the mercury. Slowly release the eyedropper until it absorbs the mercury. Then squeeze it again onto a piece of damp paper towel.

Unlike most liquids, mercury does not leave traces in its paths. Still, you should check if there are droplets of mercury remaining. You may use a flashlight to see if you miss out on any droplets.

Transfer The Paper Towel Into A Bag

Grab the paper towel by its edges, ensuring the mercury forms at the center; then lift it gently into a zip-locking bag. You can also add the glass from the thermometer into the bag. Close the bag as quickly as possible, so vapor from the mercury does not escape into the air.

Pick Up Leftover Glass And Mercury With Duct Tape

Wrap duct tape around your hand with the adhesive part facing outward. Press the duct tape on the broken thermometer’s parts and slowly peel it back so leftover mercury sticks to it. After doing this, put the duct tape into the zip-locking bag too.

Dispose Of The Zip-locking Bag

For extra protection, seal the bag and its contents in a trash bag. Label this trash bag appropriately and dispose of it as hazardous waste. It would be best if you also trashed other things used in the cleaning process, like the bag’s face mask and rubber cleaning gloves.

You can check Earth911 to find the hazardous waste collection site nearest you.

Ventilate The Premises

It is essential to ventilate the room where the mercury thermometer broke for at least 24 hours to purify the air in the room. Keep the windows open and turn on the fans to let the mercury vapor escape.

Conclusion

That is all on how to dispose of mercury thermometers. Ensure you take all necessary precautions to avoid hazards and injuries.

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