Updated April 8, 2024

Elemental or metallic mercury is a potent neurotoxin, even with small exposures. Avoid exposure by replacing broken thermometers and lamps, and use a spill kit to manage a spill clean-up.

Health effects of mercury

Mercury is a liquid at room temperature and readily evaporates into the air. People can be exposed if instruments or equipment containing mercury break and release mercury-containing dust, liquid or vapor. Health effects can include central nervous system disorders, reproductive effects and kidney damage.

Mercury at the UW

Thermometers, manometers, blood pressure cuffs and many other instruments contain elemental mercury and are easily broken. Small amounts of elemental mercury vapor can be found in ultraviolet lamps and fluorescent lamps.

Get a spill kit

If you have mercury-containing items in your laboratory, you must have a mercury spill kit. Mercury spill kits are available from numerous vendors such as VWR, Grainger and NewPig. Mercury spill kits are also stocked at the Chemistry Stockroom and Biochemistry Stores.

Cleaning up a mercury spill

For information on mercury and managing elemental mercury spills, see the Mercury Spills Focus Sheet.

For information on mercury-containing lamps including recycling and managing a spill cleanup, read the Mercury Containing Lamps Focus Sheet.

Use a non-mercury thermometer

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, for example in high-temperature applications (above 260°C/500°F), ASTM tests and equipment-specific mercury thermometers.

Services available

EH&S provides the following services:

  • Mercury spill advice

  • Mercury vapor monitoring

Call EH&S for spill advice at 206.543.0467.

Contact EH&S at 206.543.7388 to request mercury vapor monitoring.

Frequently asked questions

More Information


Environmental Programs Contact

(206) 616-5835
Reference Files 
Mercury Spill Cleanup Sheet
162.61KB (.pdf)
Mercury-Containing Lamps
147.83KB (.pdf)