What is Mercury?
Mercury is a chemical element. Although it is a metal, it is a liquid at room temperature. Its chemical properties make it a useful substance for a variety of electronic devices and industrial applications, but Mercury is also highly toxic to humans. As a pollutant, mercury stays in the environment for a very long time.
Where can Mercury be found?
Mercury is often used in everyday household objects so it is important to dispose of them properly:
- Fever thermometers and antiseptic products that contain thimerosal or merbromin
- Fluorescent lights and Mercury vapor lamps
- Oil-based paint that contains mercury
- Mercury thermostats
- Clothes irons
- Pilot light sensors found in gas appliances such as stoves, furnaces, and water heaters
- Gauges found in barometers and blood pressure gauges
- Chest freezers, washing machines, and electric space heaters that contain mercury switches
- Scientific apparatus, such as gauges and barometers
Why is Mercury a concern?
Mercury is one of the primary pollutants of concern in Indiana because:
- Mercury poisoning can cause irreversible brain, liver, and kidney damage
- Fetuses and children are the most sensitive to mercury toxicity
- Mercury does not breakdown to less toxic forms in the environment
- Significant quantities of mercury have been found in many Indiana streams and species of fish in Indiana
How Do I Dispose of Mercury Containing Items Safely?
You should never put mercury in the trash. Items containing mercury should be taken to your local solid waste management district, or in Marion County, contact the ToxDrop (317) 327-2234 to safely collect and recycle Mercury.
Things to remember when disposing of objects containing mercury:
- Never break open items that contain mercury
- Never pour mercury down the drain
- Never burn mercury
- Never put mercury in the trash
What Do I Do if I Spill Mercury in My House?
When liquid (elemental) mercury is spilled, it forms beads or droplets that can accumulate in the tiniest places. These droplets can emit vapors into the air that we cannot see or smell. Breathing mercury vapors can be very dangerous, depending on how much mercury is in the air and how long you are exposed the contaminated air. Small children and pregnant women are at highest risk for mercury poisoning, but mercury poisoning can impact anyone. The small amount of elemental mercury in fever thermometers and thermostats is not likely to cause serious health problems if it is immediately cleaned up.
Most small mercury spills, such as those from fever thermometers, can be cleaned up easily. Please follow the instructions for cleaning up a small household mercury spill [PDF]. If human contact with mercury occurs, call the Indiana Poison Center at (800) 222-1222.
If you spill more mercury than the amount in a fever thermometer, call the IDEM Spill Hotline at (888) 233-7745.
- IDEM Lighting Alternatives Fact Sheet (available on the IDEM Fact Sheets page)
- Indiana Mercury Spill Information and Cleanup Guidance for Schools [DOC]
- Mercury Related Programs at IDEM
- Mercury Laws & Rules
- Mercury Resources