- Thermostats and switches contain several grams of mercury in fragile glass bulbs or ampoules. These ampoules (as well as mercury containing thermometers) may break, releasing droplets of toxic mercury.
- Mercury is toxic to the human nervous system, as well as fish and animals. Mercury can enter the body either through skin absorption or through inhalation of mercury vapors. At room temperature, small beads of mercury will vaporize.
Handling Small Spills
- See the MassDEP fact sheet: Cleaning Up Elemental Mercury Spills
- Seal off room from other indoor spaces, ventilate to the outside.
- Take off jewelry and put on rubber gloves. Pick up mercury with an eyedropper or scoop up with stiff paper or card stock, being careful to not touch with skin or clothing. Place mercury in a sealed glass or plastic container and label MERCURY.
- Do not vacuum because it breaks up and heats droplets, facilitating vaporization. Once a vacuum cleaner has been used for a mercury spill, it will continue to release mercury into the air and is therefore safest to discard the contaminated machine rather than continue to use it.
- Use duct or packing tape to clean up remaining small particles.
- Do not wash mercury into drains.
- Do not wash mercury contaminated clothing or items in washing machine.
- If you break a compact fluorescent light bulb, which contains a very small amount of mercury, on a floor or carpet, see: Guidance for Cleaning Up Broken Fluorescent Light Bulbs
Handling Large Spills (over 1 pound or 2 tablespoons)
- Immediately evacuate everyone from the room and close the doors. Turn off central heating or cooling system.
- Call MassDEP emergency response staff at 888-304-1133 (24 hours) to report the spill. Notify local health department and ask if they have a mercury spill kit. MassDEP staff will advise you on further actions.
- Burned out but intact compact fluorescent light bulbs, which contain very small quantities of mercury, may be brought to any of the numerous mercury recycling drop-off locations across Massachusetts.
- To dispose of old thermostats containing mercury, search by Zip Code for a collection site near you .
- Take advantage of a municipal mercury collection center or event, if available. Many cities and towns have ongoing programs for the collection of intact mercury-containing devices, including thermometers, thermostats, and fluorescent lamps. Local programs are generally operated by public works departments or boards of health. or contact the local or regional recycling/solid waste coordinator for your community to learn more about available disposal and recycling options.
- Set up a mercury collection program in your town. A state contract for mercury collection is available. For a copy of the award notice, check the COMMBUYS Electronic Procurement System and search for contract number FAC26.
- Some hospitals will take small amounts of mercury from residents as a community service. Call your local hospital environmental services department to see if they will accept it.
- Take mercury containing devices and mercury contaminated clothing to a local hazardous household waste collection or commercial hazardous waste facility. See the list of Mercury Recycling Companies Serving Massachusetts .