Mercury and Mercury-containing Lamps and Spills
Elemental or metallic mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can cause adverse
health effects in very small amounts. It is a liquid at room temperature and readily
evaporates into the air. People can be exposed to mercury if instruments or equipment
containing mercury break and release mercury-containing dust, liquid, or vapor.
Health effects from mercury exposures can include central nervous system disorders,
reproductive effects and kidney damage.
Thermometers, manometers, blood pressure cuffs, and many other instruments contain
elemental mercury and are easily broken. For more information on managing elemental
mercury spills, see the Focus Sheet - Mercury Spills (pdf).
Small amounts of elemental mercury vapor can be found in UV lamps and fluorescent lamps.
For more information on mercury-containing lamps including recycling and spill cleanup,
see the Focus Sheet - Mercury Containing Lamps (pdf).
Alternatives to Mercury Thermometers and the EH&S Thermometer Exchange
Inexpensive and safe non-mercury thermometers are widely available, and EH&S recommends their use whenever possible.
EH&S is aware that research sometimes requires the use of mercury thermometers such as work with very high temperature
applications (greater than 260°C or 500°F), ASTM tests, and equipment-specific mercury thermometers.
Recycle your mercury-filled thermometers through EH&S; we’ll deliver one alcohol-filled thermometer for free in
exchange. Our alcohol thermometers are semi-submersible and measure from -20 to 110°C to within 1°. They perform
most routine laboratory functions that mercury thermometers are used for, such as measuring the temperature of water
baths or ambient air. And when you drop one, all you have to do is wipe up the liquid and place the broken glass in
your lab glass waste bin.
Supplies are limited. Only one alcohol thermometer per laboratory. Additional alcohol thermometers,
including other types of thermometers that measure higher temperatures, are available through VWR,
Fisher Scientific and other vendors.
This offer does not apply to UWMC, which has its own mercury-free mandate and substitute purchasing plan.