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Mercury Exchange Program

Close up of a thermometer

Over the past several decades mercury has become recognized world-wide as a significant environmental pollutant, as well as a serious potential public health hazard. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented a number of programs in recent years designed to reduce the production and use of mercury containing materials and devices.
These devices include (but are not limited too):

  • Manometers
  • Barometers
  • Coulter Counters
  • Hydrometers
  • Mercury Switches
  • Sphymomanometers

Mercury is a highly toxic chemical with a serious inhalation potential from the toxic vapors.

Mercury Exchange Program

In an effort to minimize mercury containing devices on campus, Cornell University has a mercury exchange program.  You can find more information about this program in the Mercury Exchange Background document.

Reuniting Separated Fluid Columns in Non-Mercury Thermometers

Useful EPA Mercury Links


What to do in case of a Mercury Spill

Unless the amount is very small and in a well vented area, CALL 911! Cleanup procedures for small Hg spills in well ventilated areas are found below

Small Mercury Spill Clean-Up Procedures

  • Secure the contaminated area to contain the spill and prevent personnel from walking through and spreading contamination.

  • If possible, lower the room temperature.
  • Open windows and provide as much ventilation as possible until area is cleaned.
  • Wear protective gloves when cleaning up mercury spills.
  • Carefully pick up larger pieces of glass and segregate from mercury contamination.
  • Sweep up mercury and debris with broom or a small brush and dustpan and place in a sealed plastic bag.  If no glass or debris is present, use an eyedropper or suction bulb to capture the mercury and place it in a plastic bottle.
  • Check to see if any mercury remains in the spill area by turning lights off and using a bright flashlight at a low angle.  Mercury will sparkle and be in small round beads.  Contact EH&S if any mercury remains in areas that are inaccessible and require vacuuming.


  • Dispose of uncontaminated glass and debris as normal trash.

  • Label all containers of mercury and/or mercury containing debris with the EH&S, two-part, green and white hazardous waste label.  Instructions for use of this label.

Grounds Maintenance manages Universal Waste Lamps containing mercury!

Hazardous Waste Tip Sheet