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More on Mercury

Exchange  ·   Home Items   ·   Spill Info   ·   Disposal Info

Mercury is toxic and should not be thrown out in the trash. This element is a silvery metal liquid that is commonly used in thermometers and thermostats. Mercury 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. 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, please go to

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 Cooperative will exchange your mercury fever thermometer for a safer digital one for free at most Hazardous Waste Collections. Simply bring the mercury thermometer in its original case or in a sealed plastic bag to the next collection and receive a new digital thermometer in return. Supplies are limited, so we must limit the exchange to one per household. Please look under "Hazardous Waste Collection" button on the left. The Groton Transfer Station is also conducting an exchange program for Groton residents. Please contact the Groton Board of Health at 448-1120 for details.

*Source: US Food and Drug Administration, January 2001

The most common items found in a home that may contain mercury are:

  • Fluorescent Light Bulbs

  • Fever Thermometers

  • Heating and Cooling Thermostats

  • Silent Light Switches

  • Furnace or Boiler Controls

For information more about devices that contain mercury, see:

Mercury Spill Information

If you accidentally spill mercury there are certain things you must do to protect yourself and others:

  1. Ventilate the area. Open a window or outside door.

  2. Evacuate the spill area for 10 minutes.

  3. Do NOT use a vacuum or broom to clean up the spill. Use two index cards or other stiff paper to push the mercury together into a ball.

  4. Carefully, scoop up the mercury onto one of the index cards or paper. Put it all, including the index cards/paper, into a plastic bag and seal. If possible, place the sealed plastic bag into a glass or plastic jar with a screw-on lid.

  5. Call the District for directions on where and when to dispose of the mercury.

Mercury Disposal Information

Residents are encouraged to bring any articles that contain mercury to one of the Hazardous Waste collections; click here for more information. Items such as fluorescent light bulbs, mercury fever thermometers and thermostats can be dropped off at the special collections and will be properly shipped and recycled. 

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Thank you to the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District for use of their information.