broken glass thermometer on white background; Shutterstock ID 440301355; Agency Name: Department of Fire Services; Client/Licensee: DFS_Massgov; Other: HazMat

Don’t mess around with mercury

By Celeste Katz Marston
August 24, 2023

Quicksilver spill in your home? Call 911 — quick. 

Mercury — including from old-school thermometers you may still have around the house — is a health hazard that must be handled by professionals if it gets loose, the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services warns. 

The department put out a fresh reminder about the dangers of mercury after hazardous materials technicians assisted the Concord Fire Department with a recent spill from a broken thermometer on Hubbard Street. 

Mercury is a heavy metal that’s liquid at room temperature. It can be found in thermometers, barometers and fluorescent light bulbs — and just a few loose drops can contaminate the air in a room, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services. 

“The vapors can pass easily from the lungs to the bloodstream,” said state DFS Public Information Officer Jake Wark. 

Exposure can cause health problems, especially in pregnant women and children. Mercury poisoning has myriad symptoms, from rashes, mood swings and memory loss to impaired movement, speech, hearing and sight. 

For those reasons, “We recommend that anyone who has a mercury spill open the windows for ventilation and call 911 right away,” Wark said, while keeping people and pets — and themselves — away from the metal without attempting to clean or vacuum it up. 

“Firefighters with the necessary training and specialized equipment will respond and take it from there,” he said.

With certain exceptions, Massachusetts law has since 2008 prohibited the sale of thermometers, barometers and sphygmomanometers — blood pressure gauges — that contain mercury. Still, “you might be surprised how many people still have them — and other products — in their homes,” Wark said.

That same year, the commonwealth also outlawed the disposal of products containing mercury in regular trash.

The best bet: Get rid of mercury products — safely — before they become a problem. 

To learn more about how to properly dispose of items containing mercury, call the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Mercury Hotline at (866) 9MERCURY or (866) 963-7287.

According to the town website, certain items that contain mercury may be recycled at Concord Public Works, 133 Keyes Road, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday. These include fluorescent bulbs; small button batteries, such as those used in watches, hearing aids and laser pointers; and thermostats and thermometers. 

For more information on Concord hazardous waste disposal, contact the public works department at (978) 318-3240.