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.
Mercury-containing thermometers should never be thrown in the trash or put down the drain or in the toilet. 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. They are available at most stores that sell thermometers, and do not pose a mercury poisoning threat. (Be sure to recycle the battery from your digital thermometer!)
Mercury Thermometer Disposal Guidelines
Properly dispose mercury thermometers - recycle them!
- Remember, only thermometers with a silver-colored liquid contain mercury. Replace yours before they get broken.Collect and seal them in a plastic container marked "Mercury for Recycling."
- Take the container to a local mercury recycling site, such as your local solid waste management district, or in Marion County, contact the ToxDrop at (317) 327-2234.
Even tiny mercury spills must be cleaned up properly.
- Never use a vacuum cleaner or shop vac to clean up a mercury spill! If a thermometer breaks on a smooth surface, use two pieces of paper to scoop all the tiny beads into a sealable, plastic container.
- If necessary, use an eye dropper to capture the beads of mercury.
- Wipe area with a damp sponge.
- All cleanup material, including paper, eye dropper and sponge, as well as any contaminated rug or portion of carpet must be properly disposed with the mercury.
- Put everything in marked plastic containers and take them to a local mercury recycling site. For larger spills, immediately call IDEM at 317-233-7745.
- If human contact with mercury occurs, call the Indiana Poison Center at (800) 382-9097. For a detailed clean up procedure for small, household mercury spills, see our guidance on Mercury Spills and Cleanup [PDF]