Maybe when you were a kid, you used to play with silvery blobs of mercury, rolling them around in your hand. And maybe afterwards you tried to flush it down the toilet. And it sank to the bottom of the bowl and you got caught by your mother.
|Circular gauge-type thermostats and rectangular models with lever-type adjustments thermostats usually have a sealed glass ampoule that contains liquid mercury, and should be managed as hazardous waste. Wikimedia commons photo.
Back then, most people didn’t realize what a potent poison mercury is. Government and industry have made some efforts to reduce toxic metals in products like alkaline batteries made after 1994. But you might be surprised at how many common household items still contain mercury. For example, the auto-tilt shutoff switch in some clothes irons contains mercury. When the iron is upright, the mercury switch makes an electrical connection that breaks when the iron tips over, to keep it from burning your house down. Everything is a trade-off.
NONE of the items listed below that contain mercury should be disposed of with the regular household trash. In Connecticut, much of this trash is burned in “trash to energy” plants. Incineration vaporizes the mercury into the atmosphere, and then it can rain down on us. See other options below, or call your town or city hall, local recycling coordinator or Public Works Dept. to see if you can bring household waste containing mercury to a local household hazardous waste collection center or one-day collection event, or visit the DEP’s household hazardous waste web page at http://tinyurl.com/92ak52.
In addition to some pre-1992 paints, Mercurochrome antiseptic, early sneakers with flashing lights, old chemistry sets, pre-1994 pesticides, and button batteries, the following items can contain mercury.
Mercury fever thermometers have grayish-silver liquid in the bulb. If the liquid in the thermometer is red, it is alcohol and can be disposed of in with regular trash. Check with your local pharmacy or medical care facility to see if they have a "thermometer exchange program." These programs take old mercury thermometers and provide you with new, digital thermometers that are safer and easier to use.
Traditional circular thermostats have a sealed glass tilt switch that contains liquid mercury. Put it in a secure container (e.g. a leftover plastic food container) and manage it as household hazardous waste.
Fluorescent bulbs come in various shapes and sizes. Some are the traditional, giant 2-, 4-, or 8-foot-long tube type bulb. Others include the newer compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) that screw in like a regular incandescent bulb. All contain varying amounts of mercury. CFLs are accepted at household hazardous waste collections. Some municipalities offer recycling of CFLs and other fluorescent lamps at their transfer stations or other drop sites. In 2008, The Home Depot began a collection program for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Residents can bring any brand of CFL, regardless of where it was purchased, to any Connecticut Home Depot. IKEA stores also accept CFLs for recycling.
Pressure Measuring Devices
Devices used to measure pressure, such as barometers, manometers, sphygmomanometers (blood pressure cuffs), and vacuum gauges, often contain large amounts of mercury. The mercury is typically visible as a bright silver liquid. Aneroid blood-pressure units are mercury-free.
Electrical switches and relays
Some top-loading chest freezers, pre-1972 washing machines, sump pumps, electric space heaters, clothes irons, silent light switches, and automatic car hood and trunk lights contain mercury switches or relays. If you need to dispose of an item that you suspect may have one of these sensors, check with your recycling coordinator at your local town or city hall and find out if they collect "white goods" at your transfer station or landfill. If they do, then the mercury switch or relay, and any other hazardous components may be removed prior to recycling the appliance as a scrap metal.
Pilot light sensors
Some gas appliances such as stoves, ovens, clothes dryers, water heaters, furnaces and space heaters have a pilot light sensor that contains mercury. If you have an old appliance that you suspect may have one of these sensors, check with your recycling coordinator at your local town or city hall and find out if they collect "white goods" at your transfer station or landfill. If they do, then the pilot sensor and any other hazardous components may be removed prior to recycling the appliance as a scrap metal. If you have one or more pilot light sensors to dispose of, manage them as household hazardous waste.
Although each of these items may only contain 0.5 – 3.5 grams of mercury, it all adds up. Once it gets into the environment, it will not decompose because it is a metal. Since we have not figured out how to destroy (or create) matter yet, we must face the consequences. That’s why it is so important for each of us to make the effort to keep these items of the regular garbage.
Visit the Thames River Basin Partnership website at www.trbp.org.
Also see Part I - Learn What Not to Burn