A mercury thermometer is a common household item that almost everyone has in their first aid box or medical supply stash.
When it comes to disposing of a mercury thermometer, a detailed safety guideline and proper procedure must be followed.
Keep reading further as we shed more light on ‘How to dispose of mercury thermometers.’
When Do You Need To Dispose Of Mercury Thermometers?
If you have an old mercury thermometer in your house, you do not necessarily need to dispose of it unless it gets damaged or broken.
The good news is that mercury thermometers can last you a lifetime, and you may not even need to replace them if they aren’t damaged.
However, as a health concern, it is recommended you still replace your thermometers after a few years.
Digital thermometers should be replaced every 3 to 4 years. Mercury thermometers should be replaced after 8 to 10 years or as soon as they stop showing accurate results.
Why Is It Essential To Safely Dispose Of Mercury Thermometers?
Mercury is toxic by nature and harmful to your health and the environment.
If your mercury thermometer gets damaged or broken, it is highly critical to ensure that the thermometer is safely disposed of. Otherwise, you risk mercury leakage, which can be dangerous.
Disposing mercury thermometers in the trash is strictly prohibited.
This could lead to the risk of mercury evaporating into the atmosphere, posing a threat to human health and the environment.
Can You Recycle Mercury Thermometers?
No, mercury thermometers cannot be recycled at home or even commercially.
As discussed earlier, mercury thermometers are hazardous. Therefore, it is not even safe to attempt to recycle or repurpose them in any way.
If there’s an old or damaged mercury thermometer in your possession, you should immediately dispose of it safely.
How To Dispose Of Mercury Thermometers?
Before we begin searching for various disposal options to ensure the safe disposal of mercury thermometers, let’s get some facts straight.
It’s a common misconception that all thermometers contain mercury.
Yes, most thermometers do contain mercury, and you need to identify and differentiate between each one of them.
If there is a small silver ball at the end of your thermometer, this means it is a mercury thermometer.
Here are the most common types of thermometers that contain mercury:
- Fever thermometers
- Kitchen thermometers used for baking, or meat temperature check, etc.
- Indoor and outdoor thermometers
- Thermometers used in labs
- Temperature control devices
Now that we have learned how to successfully identify mercury thermometers, consider some options to ensure a safe disposal process.
Disposal Option # 1: Local Hazardous Waste Collection Site
One of the most common ways of disposing of a damaged or broken mercury thermometer is by giving it away at a local hazardous waste collection site near you.
You can search the web for hazardous waste collection sites.
Once you find one, make sure you give them a call before your visit and follow all their safety instructions and guidelines.
Some hazardous waste collection sites offer both pick-up and drop-off services, so check with the one you select and choose the option that best suits you.
If you are driving to the hazardous waste collection site, make sure you place the mercury in a sturdy and sealed container in your car’s trunk.
This step is done to avoid the risk of the thermometer breaking on the way and causing a threat to your health and the environment.
Disposal Option # 2: Local Pharmacy
If your mercury thermometer is still in an ent act condition, then disposing of it off at a local pharmacy is the right thing to do.
Check with your pharmacist if they want you to follow any safety guidelines for packaging or handling broken thermometers.
Disposal Option # 3: Mercury Thermometer Collection Centers
Although this option is rare, it is still one you can consider if you live in a state or city that offers it.
Like all other disposal options, you need to ensure you follow all the safety procedures of storing and traveling with your mercury thermometer.
Keep in mind that minimal exposure to mercury has to be a top priority to ensure that you and your loved ones are safe and protected.
Safety Guidelines to Follow When Disposing of Mercury Thermometers
Disposing of mercury thermometers is serious business, and you should never be careless or irresponsible about it.
If you break a mercury thermometer by accident, follow the steps below to clean up the mess immediately.
Things You Will Need for Cleaning a Mercury Thermometer Spillage
- 3 to 5 Ziplock bag
- 2-3 Garbage Bags
- Thick protective gloves (Rubber or latex)
- Paper towels or cleaning wipes
- Duct tape
- Shaving cream
- Small paintbrush
- Marker or labeling tape
- Handheld torch
- Powdered sulfur (if required)
Cleaning Up Mercury Thermometer Spillage
If you accidentally break a mercury thermometer, follow the steps below for safe and effective cleaning:
- Put on your safety gear, including gloves, facemask, etc., before you even begin the cleaning process.
- Carefully pick up all broken glass shards and pieces without spilling anything else in the process.
- Keep paper towels, or cleaning wipes handy for picking up all glass pieces. Then throw all of this inside a zip lock bag and seal it properly. Label this bag for the safe side.
- As mercury is a dense liquid, it spills in beads and droplets. Use a stiff piece of cardboard to collect all the beads. Be very gentle with this step, as you do not want to spill the beads further. You can use a torch to find the mercury beads or droplets more easily.
- Next, you use your eyedropper to collect all mercury beads and then soak them on a piece of wet wipe. You can use cardboard to drag the beads onto the wet wipes.
- After you have removed all the larger pieces of mercury beads, it is time to tackle tinier and lesser visible ones. Shaving cream comes in handy for this purpose and helps absorb all remaining mercury residue from the surface.
- You can also use strong duct tape or paper tape to stick the specks of mercury from the surface. Powdered sulfur can also be used for this step if you can find it. However, it is a strong chemical that should not be directly inhaled, so it is better to stick to the first two options.
- Place all the cleaning wipes, tools brushes inside zip log bags and tightly seal them. Label all bags before tossing them in a bigger garbage bag.
- You can now safely dispose of this at your local household hazardous waste collection site or pharmacies accepting broken thermometers.
- This is how you safely and effectively clean a mercury thermometer spillage!
Some Additional Safety Tips to Follow
- Ensure no one comes near the spillage area to avoid further mercury spread and contamination.
- Keep your children and pets away from the area of the spillage.
- Always wear your safety gear when anywhere near a mercury spillage.
- After you have cleaned everything, leave the doors, windows, and fans open to allow proper ventilation of the area.
- You can call professional hazardous waste cleaners to do the job if you have spilt mercury over a difficult-to-clean surface like carpet, fabric, or mattresses.
Things to Strictly Avoid When Cleaning Mercury Spillage
- It is not recommended to use a vacuum cleaner to clean and cleanse if there has been a mercury spill. The vacuum should not be used because it increases the exposure to mercury by introducing it into the air circulating around us.
- Broom is also not a suitable tool for cleaning purposes when clearing out spilt mercury. Instead of collecting it, the broom will further break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.
- Pouring mercury down a drain can be dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. There is a high likelihood that mercury will get stuck in the plumbing and become problematic for plumbing repairs in the future.
- Furthermore, if it enters the drainage stream, it can cause pollution in the sewage treatment plant or damage the sewage pipelines.
- If the shoes or clothes have been contaminated by mercury, do not walk around in these shoes and clothes. Clothing also spreads mercury around and exposes other people to this poisonous substance.
The Bottom Line
We hope this detailed guide on ‘How to dispose of mercury thermometers’ was an informative read for you.
Disposing of something as dangerous as a mercury thermometer can be highly critical.
Make sure you follow the guidelines, steps, and processes carefully and keep yourself and your loved ones safe and protected.
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