When you think of household hazardous waste, it’s unsurprising if mercury comes to mind. While this liquid metal might be easily identifiable when in a (hopefully sealed) bottle, it’s less easy to spot when incorporated into electronics and other devices. In this blog post, we’re going to go over identifying and dealing with mercury at home, including in common devices and other forms you might see in your household.
Why Is Mercury Exposure Hazardous?
Mercury is damaging both to individuals and the environment. As a heavy metal, its effects can linger in contaminated spaces and items. When exposed to mercury at home, common effects are damage to the nervous and immune system and organ damage to the brain, kidneys, and liver. If dumped, it can have environmental impacts as well, including contaminating fish and other wildlife, disrupting reproduction, and even causing death. Learn more on the MassDEP website.
Mercury Devices & Electronics
Mercury, along with the hazardous heavy metals of lead, beryllium, and cadmium, can be found in many household devices and electronics, making them dangerous if improperly disposed of. Some to keep in mind:
- Fluorescent Lighting: One of the primary hazards of mercury exposure at home is the mishandling or disposal of fluorescent lighting, especially fragile tube lighting. Learn how to handle and store them safely in our blog, What are the At-Home Hazards of Fluorescent Lamps?
- Mercury Switches: Electronics, including laptop screen shutoffs, can use mercury switches. These contain several grams of mercury in fragile ampoules. These may break, releasing droplets of toxic mercury.
- Batteries: Besides containing acids and lithium, smaller batteries (like the button battery) can contain mercury. Learn more about all types of batteries and your disposal options in our blog, Can You Dispose of Household Batteries in the Trash?
- Thermostats and Thermometers: These may contain mercury, especially with older models, in fragile glass. These can be easily identified by the presence of a silver bulb. If the device is marked as mercury-free, check the labeling to see if it’s a gallium, indium, and tin thermometer.
- TV Screens and Monitors: Liquid Crystal Displays and Color CRT TVs can contain a small amount of mercury. Learn more about the different hazards TVs pose in our blog, TV Disposal: Differences Between Old and New Monitors.
- Circuit Boards: These may contain heavy metals, including lead, beryllium, and cadmium, alongside mercury switches. Learn more about general electrical hazardous waste—eWaste—in our blog, eWaste: Why Electronics Shouldn’t Be Thrown in the Trash.
Liquid Mercury at Home
Of course, mercury in devices isn’t the only way it can appear at home. Mercury can also be found in liquid form, commonly from old hobbyist supplies or home businesses. You may have inherited it alongside other old household chemicals and not even realized what you had. You should check out our Mercury Fact Sheet for full details on how to handle liquid mercury.
Thankfully, disposal options are available to you, including our NEDT Collection Centers! We accept all sorts of household hazardous waste, including mercury in all its forms; see our full listing here. Contact us to learn more or schedule a pick-up today. Because household hazardous waste shouldn’t be difficult!