Mercury Disposal

Facts About Mercury
Mercury is a silvery-colored metal that is in liquid form at room temperature. Mercury is a neurotoxin - meaning that exposure to mercury can damage your central nervous system. Mercury is especially dangerous when its vapors are inhaled. The most sensitive human exposure is to a fetus or infant, because their nervous systems are still developing. Symptoms of mercury exposure in children include: slowed or reduced learning, apathy, irritability, hypersensitivity, weight loss, sweating, light sensitivity and eczema.

Mercury bio-accumulates in our environment, meaning that it builds up in the tissues of humans and animals as it works its way up the food chain. For example, small fish living in a lake that contains mercury will accumulate mercury in their bodies. When those smaller fish are eaten by a larger fish, that mercury load is also consumed. When we eat that larger fish, we also ingest the mercury that they have accumulated in their tissue. Thus, an ever-increasing load of mercury is consumed by humans and larger animals.

If mercury is accidentally spilled in your home, do not use your vacuum to clean it up! Ventilate the area by opening a window, and call the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) immediately at 651-649-5451 or read proper cleanup procedures (PDF).

Mercury Products in the Home
In an effort to reduce the amount of mercury finding its way into the environment, it is now illegal to place mercury-containing products in your garbage. Thus, devices that contain mercury must be properly managed. Mercury can be found in many common household devices, including: 

  • Fluorescent lights
  • Neon lamps
  • Rechargeable and button batteries
  • "Silent” wall switches
  • Some washing machines
  • Steam irons (with automatic shut-off)
  • Thermometers (both the fever and cooking types)
  • Thermostats
When purchasing these types of items, try to find non-mercury alternatives (for example, digital or alcohol-based thermometers work well). When you replace older thermostats in your home, try to purchase a digital or electronic model that contains no mercury.

Fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps, mercury vapor, high pressure sodium and metal halide lamps also contain small amounts of mercury. Many homeowners are replacing their older less-efficient incandescent light bulbs with newer, more energy-efficient CFLs, in an effort to reduce their energy consumption - and this is a GOOD thing. CFLs (and other fluorescent lamps) are not dangerous to use. They will not release any mercury unless they are broken. Just be sure to store them carefully, to avoid breakage, until they can be managed for proper disposal.

Old Mercury Devices
What should you do with your old devices that contain mercury? Bring your old mercury fever thermometers, thermostats, and fluorescent lamps from your home to your local Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Facility for proper disposal.

Mercury thermometers are made of glass. They are about the size of a straw, with a silvery-white liquid inside (some thermometers contain a red or blue colored liquid. These are filled a small amount of alcohol instead of mercury so they are safer to use, but they can also be brought to the HHW Facility for proper disposal.) When bringing your mercury thermometer to the HHW Facility, carefully transport the thermometer in a rigid container to avoid breakage.

Having a mercury fever thermometer in your home can pose a potential risk to the health of you and your family. If mercury is released from a broken thermometer and it is not quickly and properly cleaned up, it could evaporate and reach dangerous levels within your home. Even the smallest amount of mercury should be treated as a serious issue, especially when children (or pets) are present in the home.

Dispose of Your Devices
Let’s make your home a safer place for you and your family - bring your old unneeded mercury-containing devices to the Scott County HHW Facility
Mercury Thermostat (Photo: MPCA)
Mercury Thermostat (Photo: MPCA)