Ditch that old mercury thermometer | VailDaily.com

Ditch that old mercury thermometer

Scott N. Miller
Old thermometers contain dangerous mercury. They should be swapped for modern, non-mercury-filled models.

EAGLE COUNTY – Mercury is dangerous stuff if allowed to roam free. This month in Eagle County is dedicated to rounding up as much of the stuff as possible before it does any damage.Local fire stations this month are collecting mercury thermometers from residents. The mercury in those thermometers will then be recycled. The local effort is part of a state drive to get people to turn in their old thermometers.The sale of household “fever thermometers” containing mercury was banned in 2002. But millions of the things still sit in medicine cabinets and drawers. Those thermometers are safe as long as they aren’t broken. Even if they do break, cleanup, if done carefully, isn’t especially hazardous. If mercury gets into the environment, though, there can be trouble.”A little bit goes a long way,” said, Mark McMillan of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.How little? One figure, which McMillan acknowleged is the subject of some debate, is that the mercury in one thermometer – about one gram – in a 20-acre lake would be enough to prompt warnings about eating the fish from that lake.With that in mind, public health officials say it’s important to get potential sources of mercury pollution accounted for.”This is just part of an effort to get mercury out of the environment,” said Ray Merry, director of the Eagle County Department of Health and Environment. And recycling mercury thermometers is a much better way to deal with potentially hazardous materials than just letting it sit in medicine cabinets, said one of the leaders of the state effort.Doctor Richard Vogt is the director of the Tri-County Health Department. That agency, which is leading the state’s collection drive, is the health department for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties on the Front Range. While it’s good to keep mercury out of the environment, it’s still useful in industrial applications.”It’s a commodity,” McMillan said. “It’s still used in gauges, relays and things like that. Our ideal world is to get it out of the environment, but this is a start.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or smiller@vaildaily.com.Drop-off pointsLocal fire stations will be accepting mercury thermometers on the following dates during regular business hours, unless firefighters are out on a call.- Through 7: Vail Fire Department, 42 East Meadow Drive- April 10-14: Eagle River Fire Protection District station in Avon, 315 Benchmark Road- April 17-21: Gypsum fire station, 0511 2nd Street – April 24-28: Greater Eagle Fire Protection District station, 425 East Third Street – April 22: Eagle-Vail Pavilion- May 13: Eagle County Landfill Five don’ts, three do’sIf a mercury thermometer breaks:- Don’t freak out.- Do be careful.- Don’t try to clean up mercury with a broom.- Don’t use household cleaning products on the spill; some react violently with mercury.- Don’t pour mercury down the sink.- Don’t wear gold jewelry; mercury will bond with, and ruin, gold.- Do wear rubber gloves and old clothes.- Do call the Eagle County Department of Environmental Health, 328-8755.How can you tell?If a thermometer has gray or silver fluid in it, that’s probably mercury. Other colors are probably other, far less hazardous, liquids.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado

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