Mercury is toxic and must not be thrown out in the trash. In Massachusetts,it is illegal to dispose of mercury-added productsin the trash. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection created a fact sheet with details about this law, including information about what is considered a "mercury-added product."
The most common household items that may contain mercury are:
Mercury is a silvery metal liquid that is commonly used in thermometers and thermostats. It is not hazardous to humans when it is in a sealed device. The danger to health and the environment arises when mercury-containing articles are broken and discarded in the trash. (Or broken after being discarded in the trash.) Mercury produces an odorless gas when exposed to the air. Breathing that gas may be harmful. Mercury can cause neurological damage and is harmful to the kidneys and liver. The airborne mercury is deposited on lakes and streams with rain and snow. Fish eat smaller organisms that eat the mercury and it ultimately builds up in the fish. The mercury is then transferred to humans that eat the contaminated fish. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Health has issued a fish consumption advisory for many rivers and lakes throughout the state. For more on fish advisories for this region of the state,visit https://eohhs.ehs.state.ma.us/dph_fishadvisory/default.aspx.
Mercury Thermometer Exchange Program
Mercury thermometers are still commonly found in many medicine cabinets. If a mercury thermometer breaks, it can threaten our health and the environment. For example, the mercury from one fever thermometer can contaminate all of the fish in a 20-acre lake. When a mercury thermometer is broken, the mercury forms a vapor that is easily inhaled. Symptoms of acute exposure to mercury can include numbness around the mouth, tunnel vision, and tingling toes and fingers. Prolonged, high level exposure can cause neurological and kidney damage, vision problems, and behavioral abnormalities.* These dangers are increased for younger children and pregnant women.
Exposure to mercury vapor from broken thermometers is preventable by using a safe alternative, such as a digital thermometer. The District will exchange your mercury fever thermometer for a non-mercury one for free. Simply bring the mercury thermometer in its original case or in a sealed plastic bag to our office at 117 Main Street in Greenfield and receive a new non-mercury thermometer in return. Supplies are limited, so we must limit the exchange to one per household. Please call the District office at (413) 772-2438 before bringing your mercury thermometer in to make sure a staff member is available.
*Source: US Food and Drug Administration, January 2001
To learn more, visit:
Mercury Spill Information
If you accidentally spill mercury there are certain things you must do to protect yourself and others:
For a more detailed description of this cleanup process, see: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/01/11/cleanup-hgspill.pdf
Mercury Disposal Information
District residents are encouraged to bring any articles that contain mercury to one of the District's Household Hazardous Waste facilities located in Bernardston, Colrain, and Conway. Items such as fluorescent light bulbs, mercury fever thermometers and thermostats can be dropped off at the special sites and will be properly shipped and recycled.
For schedules, directions, and fees click on Super Sites.