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Mercury Exchange Background


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.

Without question, mercury is one of the most frequently spilled hazardous materials at CU - primarily in the form of broken thermometers.  The costs related to the cleanup of  mercury spills on campus, as well as cleanup and removal of mercury found during construction and renovation projects is considerable.


In keeping with the policies of both the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the EPA to reduce the purchase and use of mercury containing products, as well as limiting potential spills of this toxic material,  Cornell's Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) department provides a mercury thermometer exchange program used across campus.


Cornell EH&S will provide a one-for-one replacement of non-mercury containing thermometers for mercury containing.  EH&S will accept any unbroken mercury containing thermometer.  The mercury containing thermometer may be exchanged for any one of the four commonly used (partial immersion and total immersion) thermometers that EH&S offers.  Personnel on campus must go to the EH&S website and submit the Mercury Exchange Form under the Waste Pickups link.

Mercury thermometers being swapped out must be placed in a sealed container such as a large Ziploc bag.  EH&S Waste Management personnel will pick up the mercury thermometers from the requestors work area and deliver the replacement at the same time.

Only unbroken mercury thermometers will be eligible for this exchange program.  Any broken mercury thermometers will gladly be removed from any campus work area for proper waste disposal.  Please be aware that EH&S cannot take your household thermometers.  If acceptable, household mercury containing thermometers and/or other mercury containing materials should be disposed at your county or community Household Hazardous Waste collections.  A list of area HHW websites can be found in CU's Hazardous Waste Manual Chapter 7.18.

Collected mercury thermometers will be sent out for recycling.

EH&S personnel will also take any other mercury containing devices such as barometers and manometers from work areas if requested, and ensure proper recovery and recycling of the mercury.

PLEASE NOTE: Extreme care should be used when moving any mercury containing devices such as barometers and manometers to prevent spillage of mercury.  Not all of these devices are entirely sealed and mercury could readily spill out or in some cases actually break the glass containment if they are not moved very carefully.  Unless you are familiar with the device and how to safely move it, leave it where it is and contact EH&S for assistance for removal by submitted a Chemical Waste Removal Form.

It should be a goal for all of us to do our part to protect human health and safety, and to make a concerted effort toward minimizing environmental pollution.  Participation in this program to reduce the potential hazards to our community created by the use of mercury and mercury containing devices is a good step in helping to accomplish this goal.