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Guidance for Managing Broken Mercury Fever Thermometers

photograph of a mercury thermometerMercury is found in a number of household products, including fever thermometers. A standard mercury fever thermometer contains about ½ gram of mercury. While this small amount of mercury does not ordinarily pose an immediate health risk to children, proper clean up procedures need to be implemented to ensure that the mercury does not vaporize because mercury vapors pose a more serious threat to children’s health .

When a Thermometer Breaks

  • If a thermometer breaks, try to contain the spill. Never vacuum mercury! Vacuuming can vaporize the mercury and increase the chances of human exposure.
  • Keep children, pets and others away from the area of the spill.
  • Ventilate the room where the spill occurred.
  • Use latex or neoprene gloves when cleaning up the spill.
  • Use a piece of cardboard to push the beads together and prevent the mercury from spreading.
  • Try to divert the mercury from cracks and crevices.
  • Use scotch tape, masking tape or duct tape to pick up small beads of mercury.
  • Use a flashlight to detect any remaining beads of mercury.
  • Push the mercury into an envelope and put the envelope, scotch tape, gloves and the broken thermometer into a sealable plastic bag. Store the mercury in a secure place, preferably away from occupied areas, and contact a licensed hazardous waste vendor for disposal. Further information is also available regarding the disposal of other household hazardous waste.

  • For questions regarding potential mercury poisoning, contact the Poison Control Center at the UConn Health Center 800-222-1222.

Replace Mercury Thermometers

DEEP highly recommends replacing mercury fever thermometers with non-mercury alternatives. Digital thermometers and one-time temperature strips are viable alternatives. Please note that digital thermometers do have a button cell battery that contains a very small amount of mercury. When the button cell battery is spent, take the battery to a household hazardous waste collection.

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Related Fact Sheets and Other Information

Recycling Information

All environmental fact sheets are designed to provide basic information and to answer general questions. You must refer to the appropriate Connecticut General Statutes for the specific definitions and statutory requirements. 

Content Last Updated on September 2014