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Newsletters: Beware Mercury Thermometers
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Beware Mercury Thermometers

Marcia Boatwright RN, CRNI

A mercury thermometer is made of glass with silver liquid (mercury) in the bulb at one end. While mercury has proven useful in measuring devices, it is a toxic substance that can harm both humans and our environment, and mercury thermometers are no longer considered safe by many municipalities. Mercury can affect the human brain, liver, kidneys, and spinal cord. In the environment, mercury can contaminate lakes, rivers, and wildlife for years to come. As of October 2, 2008, thirteen states have laws that limit the manufacture, sale, and/or distribution of mercury fever thermometers.

Besides not being safe, a mercury thermometer more that two years old is not considered accurate. It may not register a fever even if one is present.

 

Safe and Proper Disposal

The American Hospital Association and the United States Environmental Protection Agency made a commitment in 1998 to virtually eliminate mercury from hospital waste. To help protect yourself and your community, never throw a mercury thermometer in the garbage or trash burn barrel, or pour liquid mercury down the drain or toilet. If a mercury thermometer breaks in your home, follow these steps:

•  Have everyone else leave the area; don’t let anyone walk through the mercury on their way out.

•  Remove pets from the area.

•  Open all windows and doors to the outside; shut all doors to other parts of the house.

•  Do not allow children to help you clean up the spill.

•  Do not vacuum up the broken thermometer. The heat from the vacuum cleaner can evaporate the mercury and disperse it throughout your house.

•  Do not use a broom as the bristles can collect the mercury beads and also spread them throughout your house.

•  Wear latex or rubber gloves to clean up the spill. Use a flashlight to locate the beads of mercury. Use stiff paper to push all mercury beads together into a wide-mouth sealable container and seal the container. Pick up remaining small beads with sticky tape, such as duct tape. Carefully place all articles in a heavy plastic bag, placing your gloves in last. Label the bag as “mercury waste” and place the bag into a second bag; label this as “mercury waste” also. Take it to the nearest hazardous waste collection center immediately.

•  If a mercury thermometer breaks on carpet in your home, contact your local (or nearest) fire marshal, who can identify safe corrective action.

 

Disposal

You can find collection programs in your area by logging on to earth911.com and typing in “thermometer” or “mercury,” along with your zip code. You’ll get a list of programs that accept mercury-containing thermometers.

 

Safe Alternatives

A variety of safe thermometers are available at your local pharmacy or food store. Digital thermometers are very inexpensive, easy to use, and easy to read. Some now have large digital number readouts to make them even easier to read.

Check your thermometer now, while it is fresh on your mind.

As always, the articles in the LifelineLetter are not intended to substitute for medical advice or medical care. Please discuss your individual issues and questions with your healthcare provider. Here’s to your health!

LifelineLetter, July/August 2010

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This website is an educational resource. It is not intended to provide medical advice or recommend a course of treatment. You should discuss all issues, ideas, suggestions, etc. with your clinician prior to use. Clinicians in a relevant field have reviewed the medical information; however, the Oley Foundation does not guarantee the accuracy of the information presented, and is not liable if information is incorrect or incomplete. If you have questions please contact Oley staff.

 

Updated in 2015 with a generous grant from Shire, Inc. 

 

This website was updated in 2015 with a generous grant from Shire, Inc. This website is an educational resource. It is not intended to provide medical advice or recommend a course of treatment. You should discuss all issues, ideas, suggestions, etc. with your clinician prior to use. Clinicians in a relevant field have reviewed the medical information; however, the Oley Foundation does not guarantee the accuracy of the information presented, and is not liable if information is incorrect or incomplete. If you have questions please contact Oley staff.
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