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Assorted Items That May Contain Mercury

Mercury-containing items are frequently found in the home:

  • Kids toys and miscellaneous items: Chemistry sets. old mercury maze games. pre-1997 LA Gear tennis shoes with light-up soles, batteries in some children's books and watches, mercuric oxide and old alkaline batteries, tools, archery bows, fishing tackle, darts and clock pendulums. These items do not pose a threat until mishandled or broken. For safety's sake, recycle these items and purchase non-mercury replacements.
  • Fever thermometers: Thermometers register temperature. Many thermometers contain mercury, a silver-colored liquid. Thermometers with a different colored liquid - usually red - contain alcohol, not mercury. Glass thermometers are extremely fragile and can be easily broken, allowing the mercury to escape. Accidental mercury releases in the home present some of the greatest poisoning risks to children. A typical fever thermometer contains about 1/2 gram of mercury. A larger thermometer will have as much as 3 grams. Alcohol-filled and digital thermometers are good substitutes for mercury thermometers and are readily available in stores. These thermometers do not pose a mercury poisoning threat, but be sure to recycle the battery from your digital thermometer!
  • Antiseptic products that contain thimerosal or merbromin: Certain first aid antiseptics and contact lens solutions contain mercury compounds, such as thimerosal and merbromin, in their list of ingredients. Use of these products gives mercury a direct route of entry into your body and may cause mercury poisoning with frequent or prolonged use. Replace these antibacterial products with mercury-free substitutes.
  • Fluorescent lights and Mercury vapor lamps: Fluorescent and other mercury vapor bulbs are excellent environmental choices because they use up to 50 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs. But remember, mercury bulbs must be carefully handled and properly disposed. Mercury vapor, immediately released upon breakage, can contaminate the air we breathe. When a mercury vapor bulb burns out, carefully remove it from its fixture and store it in its original container or other box. Do the same with blue-tinted automotive headlamps; be sure to remove them before sending a retired vehicle to the scrap dealer. Mark the container "Mercury for Recycling" and take it to a local mercury recycling site. Never break or crush the bulbs. If a bulb is accidentally broken, air out the room and scoop the mercury-containing pieces and powder into a sealable, plastic container. Although fluorescent bulbs contain mercury and require special handling and disposal, they are more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs and often last much longer. These characteristics reduce our reliance on coal burning - a major source of mercury pollution. Ask your retailer to stock new low-mercury bulbs that are now available. Remember these bulbs need to be recycled too.
    • The various types of mercury vapor bulbs and their most common uses are:
    • Fluorescent and HID (high intensity discharge) - kitchen, workshop, garage and other home lighting.
    • Metal halide - street, security and flood lights.
    • High-pressure sodium - street, security and flood lights.
    • Neon, almost always colored - novelty, lounge and retail store lighting.
    • Automotive headlamps with characteristic blue tint when lit - Audi, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Saab and Volvo models and Lincoln Continentals.
  • Mercury thermostats: Most homes have thermostats, many of which contain mercury. Mercury-containing tilt switches have been used in thermostats for more than 40 years. They provide accurate, reliable temperature control, require little or no maintenance, and do not require a power source. Like all mercury-containing products, thermostats that contain mercury have the potential to contaminate our environment. Now the good news: Electronic mercury-free thermostats are available. They can be programmed to control temperature at preset times. This results in lower utility bills and less pollution from electricity generation. As an energy conservation measure, some utilities offer free programmable thermostats to replace old ones.
  • Pilot light sensors: Mercury-containing sensors may be found in some gas-fired appliances that have pilot lights. These include stoves, ovens, water heaters, clothes dryers, furnaces and space heaters. A sensor has a probe that consists of a metal bulb and thin tube attached to a gas-control valve. Mercury inside the tube expands or contracts to open and shut the valve. Although there are some gas appliances that have been made with nonmercury thermostat probes, you should treat all of them as if they contain mercury. When you replace an old appliance, arrange for the pilot light sensor to be recycled.
  • Gauges found in barometers and blood pressure gauges: Many barometers, manometers, blood pressure, and vacuum gauges contain mercury. Liquid mercury in the gauges responds to air pressure in a precise way that can be read on a calibrated scale. These gauges must be recycled at the end of their useful lives. If the gauges are not recycled, the mercury may contaminate the water you drink and the air you breathe. Mercury gauges occasionally need servicing to maintain their accuracy, which often results in elemental mercury waste that should be recycled. If you have a mercury gauge, recycle it and purchase a mercury-free replacement. Other Items - Mercury switches may be used in chest freezers, refrigerators, gas and electric stoves, washing machines, space heaters, pool heaters, commercial water heaters, and camper appliances. Many automotive applications including hood and trunk light switches, ABS braking systems switches, ride control systems, navigation displays, air bag sensors, and high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps.

Assorted Mercury Items Disposal Guidelines

Identify all the assorted items that contain mercury.
  • Use stickers or some other form of identification to mark them, and replace as necessary.
  • Contact IDEM for free mercury stickers.
Properly dispose assorted mercury items - recycle them!
  • Once you've gathered all the outdated mercury-containing toys, shoes, paint, batteries and antibacterial products from your home, place them in a sealable, plastic container and mark it "Mercury for Recycling."
  • Take it to your local mercury recycling site, such as your local solid waste management district, or in Marion County, contact the ToxDrop.
Before you buy, check what's inside.
  • Do not buy mercury-containing products unless they are absolutely necessary.

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