Mercury is a naturally occurring, highly toxic, heavy metal that moves between water, air, and soil as a result of natural and human activities. It is a persistent and bioaccumulative toxin (PBT), which means that it accumulates in animals and people, becoming more concentrated as it moves up the food chain, causing harm to people and the environment.
Many thermostats sold prior to 2006 contain a mercury switch. A mercury switch consists of a glass tube with mercury inside. Mercury's unique characteristics (its excellent conductivity and high surface tension) the mercury rolls freely inside the glass tube making it extremely effective as a switch in a thermostat. As it moves within the switch, the mercury opens and closes an electrical circuit, which turns on and off a furnace or air conditioner to maintain a desired room temperature. According to the Thermostat Recycling Corporation, mercury thermostats contain approximately four grams per switch. Industrial-sized thermostats may have higher amounts of mercury. When a mercury switch breaks, the mercury vaporizes, posing an immediate and serious health risk. If mercury is inhaled or absorbed through the skin, it can damage the central nervous system, especially during fetal and childhood development.
To Prepare for Recycling
Place the thermostat in a zip-lock bag and transport in a rigid plastic container to prevent breakage.
Where does it go Next?
The mercury will be reclaimed to be used in other mercury switches. Recycling existing mercury reduces the need to process more mercury from the environment.
Cleaning Up a Mercury Spill
- Do not vacuum!
- Make sure the spill area is adequately ventilated.
- Wear rubber gloves to prevent skin contact. Keep hands away from your face—especially eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Isolate the spill immediately. If it is on a raised surface, contain it so that mercury doesn’t roll onto the floor. Divert spilled mercury from drains, cracks, and crevices.
- Carefully pick up broken glass. Wrap or fold in a paper towel or tissue and place in a leak-proof plastic bag.
- Working from the outside of the spill area toward the center, push small mercury beads together with a card, stiff paper, or squeegee to form larger droplets. Use an eyedropper or two stiff pieces of paper to pick up droplets and place into a leak-proof plastic bag.
- Use the sticky side of duct or masking tape (two inches or wider) to pick up remaining glass and mercury droplets. Pay special attention to cracks or crevices in tile or wood floors. Place the glass, mercury, and tape into the same leak-proof bag.
- Using a flashlight, look all around the area of the spill. The light will reflect off the mercury beads, making it easier to see them. Pick up any droplets using the procedure above.
- When finished, carefully remove the rubber gloves and place them in the leak-proof plastic bag.
- Place all mercury-containing clean-up debris (gloves, tape, mercury, etc. contained in a leak-proof plastic bag) into another leak-proof plastic bag, twist or snap shut, and seal the opening with tape.
- Take the bag to a free Household Hazardous Waste collection facility or collection event.
Free Household Hazardous Waste Disposal
If you are a resident of Clark County or one of its cities, you may dispose of unwanted household hazardous waste products at any of the following HHW collection programs. Business-generated hazardous waste will not be accepted.
Eligible senior and citizens with disabilities who are unable to transport HHW to a collection site or event may call (360) 397-2121 ext. 4352 to see if they qualify for a free home pick up.
Fixed Collection Facilities
Satellite Collection Events