What you should know about mercury Mercury (Hg) is a naturally occurring element. In its elemental state, it is a silvery liquid metal that is commonly found in household devices such as fever thermometers, thermostats, fluorescent bulbs, and light switches. It can also exist as an invisible vapor or as methyl mercury contained in fish. Different forms of mercury create different hazards. 

Health Concerns 
Mercury is toxic to humans and animals. Exposure to mercury may cause neurological, cardiovascular, reproductive, and kidney damage. The most common ways to become exposed to mercury are by breathing the vapors from a broken mercury device and through the consumption of fish contaminated with methyl mercury. When liquid mercury is exposed to the air, it forms an invisible, odorless vapor that is harmful to breathe. Methyl mercury, which is created through mercury pollution, can accumulate in larger fish and is passed on to humans when they eat the fish. The mercury is persistent and builds up in human tissues. Mercury is especially harmful to young children and pregnant women. The State of Massachusetts Department of Public Health has issued fish consumption warnings that limit the amount of fish we should eat, especially for children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. 

Besides potentially damaging human health, mercury poses a threat to aquatic animals, birds, and mammals. Mercury enters our environment both naturally and from many sources such as the emissions from coal-burning power plants, municipal waste incinerators, and even crematoriums. Once in the air, mercury collects and travels through our atmosphere. It is then deposited into our waterways by precipitation such as rain or snowfall. 


Mercury can also be introduced into the environment by improper disposal of items that contain it. The few drops of mercury contained in a fever thermometer can contaminate all of the fish in a twenty-acre lake. Scientists are studying other wildlife species that eat freshwater fish such as the bald eagle, common loon, and bear. These animals may also be threatened by mercury pollution. 

These are some of the most common items that contain mercury:
  • Fluorescent Bulbs 
  • Thermometers 
  • Thermostats 
  • Electrical Switches and Relays 
  • Steam Pressure Controls 
  • Metal Halide, Mercury Vapor, and High Pressure Sodium Lamps 
  • Pressure Gauges 
  • Manometers 
  • Blood Pressure Devices

If you break an item that contains mercury... 
Clear the area near the spilled mercury - especially keep children and pets away. Ventilate the area with fresh air and call the Massachusetts mercury hotline at 1-866-637-2879 for instructions on how to clean up the mercury. Any item coming in contact with the mercury is contaminated. Do not vacuum or place in the trash. 

Residents/ Homeowners 
District residents may bring their mercury-containing items such as fever thermometers, thermostats, mercury switches, fluorescent bulbs and other devices to one of our convenient hazardous waste drop-off centers. Always protect the device from breaking during transport. Small items should be sealed in a plastic bag or other airtight container. For more information please call the Solid Waste District office at 413-772-2438 or e-mail at info@franklincountywastedistrict.org

Heating and Electrical Contractors
Thermostats containing mercury may be recycled through the "Thermostat Recycling Corporation" (TRC) program at area plumbing/ heating and electrical supply wholesalers. This program is sponsored by the Honeywell Corporation and it costs nothing to participate. Simply bring in your old thermostats when you go to the wholesaler to get supplies. A container has been provided for the thermostats to be recycled. It is a simple, affordable way to help protect human health and our environment. 

The Franklin County Solid Waste Management District also provides safe mercury disposal options for contractors through its permanent hazardous waste collection program. Please call 413-772-2438 to learn about the locations and times that mercury thermostats may be dropped off for recycling. 

Produced by the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District
Funded by a grant from the USDA Rural Utilities Service, Washington, DC
This flyer is available in hard copy, at no cost, by contacting the District office.

District home page


Franklin County Solid Waste Management District
50 Miles Street
Greenfield, MA 01301
Tel: (413) 772-2438
MA Relay for the hearing impaired: 711 or 1-800-439-2370 (TTY/TDD)
Fax: (413) 772-3786
Staff email addresses 

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