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Mercury

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Where is it Found in Your Home?

Mercury can be found in the home in a variety of products, such as fever thermometers, batteries, thermostats, some eye preparations, mildew-proof latex paint, fluorescent light bulbs and various switches. Mercury was also used, until the 1970s in the U.S., as a pesticide coating on seed grains to protect against harmful microorganisms.

What Makes it Hazardous?

Mercury is toxic to many organ systems, including the central nervous system. Children and fetuses are at highest risk if exposed to mercury. Mercury can enter the body through inhalation of mercury vapors (when a fluorescent bulb breaks) or through the pores of the skin (when a thermometer breaks). Mercury vapor is odorless and colorless and can build up in your home after a mercury containing item such as a thermometer is broken. Mercury is also hazardous to the environment, because it accumulates in the food chain and can be toxic to humans and other animals that consume mercury-tainted plants or animals.

Spilled Mercury in Your Home?

Dangerous amounts of mercury vapors could be inhaled if spilled mercury is not cleaned up properly. In the event of a mercury spill:

  • Visit the EPA mercury spill web page.
  • Collect the mercury and clean up the spill immediately. If you break a product, or otherwise spill mercury in your home, the EPA has adopted guidelines for cleanup.
  • Open a window to ventilate the room.
  • Do not attempt to vacuum up the mercury. The mercury will vaporize faster due to the agitation and heat from the machine, and it may contaminate your vacuum cleaner.
  • For broken fluorescent lamps, see Fluorescent Bulbs.
  • Contain the spill immediately. Be very careful not to walk in or spread the mercury in any way. Mercury beads divide easily upon pressure. As mercury is dispersed, (the more little silver balls) the greater the contamination. In other words, one mercury bead is less hazardous than that same bead broke into many pieces, because there is more surface area to evaporate, causing more mercury vapors.

Consumer Tips

Disposal Options

Recycle:

  • Thermostats: Ace Hardware in Missoula (Eastgate and Trempers locations) accepts mercury thermostats for recycling.
  • Annual Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event: Haz Waste Days, in September, accepts mercury and related waste; the mercury is reclaimed and recycled.
  • Get a Free Digital Thermometer: Bring your mercury fever thermometer(s) to Haz Waste Days, in September, and get a free digital thermometer in exchange! Limit one free digital thermometer per household.
  • Broken thermometers and related clean up supplies: Carefully place in a heavy plastic sealed bag or glass container and label “Mercury Waste”. Bring to Haz Waste Days in September, or small items may be taken to Missoula City-County Health Dept. Environmental Health Division (301 W. Alder, second floor).

Dispose:

  • Do not throw mercury-containing items such as mercury thermometers, thermostats, and fluorescent bulbs in the trash.

The Residential Disposal Guide is provided by the Missoula Valley Water Quality District as a public service and is not an endorsement of specific businesses, services or products. Any omissions or inaccuracies are unintentional. Please contact us with corrections or additions. Call businesses or agencies to confirm hours, locations and charges for services, if any. For information on disposal of items not listed, email or call the Water Quality District at (406) 258-4890, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Some of the information provided is from the Washington County, Minnesota, Deptartment of Public Health and Environment.