Ask Waste Watchers: Time to consider safer alternatives to mercury |

Ask Waste Watchers: Time to consider safer alternatives to mercury

Joseph Walls
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

I keep hearing about the hazards of mercury in the home. Where would I find mercury in my home?

– Pres in Avon

Thanks for the great question, Pres. It will be surprising if you do not find some mercury in your home after reading this article. There are very few homes that do not contain mercury. Mercury can be found in all fluorescent light bulbs, older thermometers, many thermostats, certain medicines, old chemistry sets, some batteries and old pesticides.

The following list is not intended to be comprehensive, but it should help you identify most of the mercury-containing devices and compounds in your home. I have also suggested some safer alternatives.

Fluorescent light bulbs: Fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury, including the energy-saving curly bulbs that you may have in your home. Don’t let this discourage you from using them, as they use less energy than incandescent bulbs, last longer and are, therefore, better for the environment. They only release mercury into the home if they are broken. Fluorescent bulbs should always be recycled.

Thermostats: A thermostat controls the temperature inside your home and is mounted on the wall, often in a hallway. Check to see if your thermostat contains mercury by gently removing the cover. If you see a glass bulb with silver liquid in it, that is mercury. Safe alternatives to the mercury thermostat include digital or electronic options.

Thermometers: Look at the candy, oven, outdoor and oral thermometers in your home. If the liquid inside is silver, then they contain mercury. Safer alternatives are digital or alcohol thermometers.

Medicine: In the past, Mercurochrome was used on cuts and stained your skin a dark red-orange color. Mercurochrome contains mercury and is no longer approved for sale in the U.S. If you find old bottles of this medicine in your home, please dispose of them properly and consult with your pharmacist for safer alternatives.

Insect and weed killers: Pesticides and herbicides manufactured 15 or more years ago may contain mercury. A safer alternative would be to replace old pesticides with modern ones that should not contain mercury. You can safely dispose of old pesticides at the Household Hazardous Waste facility in Wolcott.

Certain button-cell batteries: Button-cell batteries can be found in watches, hearing aids and car remotes. There are many different types, but the mercuric oxide and many of the silver oxide types do contain mercury. Alkaline and lithium batteries would be safer alternatives.

Old chemistry sets: Chemistry sets once contained liquid mercury and mercury compounds for experimentation. If you have an old chemistry set in the closet or attic, please review its contents for safety. Call the Eagle County Household Hazardous Waste facility with any questions.

Joseph Walls is hazardous-waste specialist at the Eagle County Household Hazardous Waste facility, located at the landfill in Wolcott. The facility is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Call 970-328-3468 or visit for information.

Support Local Journalism