This fact sheet was created to address issues with elemental mercury only. Mercury exists in three forms: elemental or metallic mercury, inorganic mercury compounds, and organic mercury compounds.
Sometimes referred to as quicksilver, elemental or metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white metal and is liquid at room temperature. When dropped, elemental mercury breaks into smaller droplets, which can go through small cracks or become strongly attached to certain materials.
EPA is providing this fact sheet on thermostats in an attempt to prevent mercury releases from occurring and to alert you to the potential health risks and liability issues related to a mercury release.
Most home thermostats contain three to five grams of mercury. Although they only contain small quantities of mercury and do not by themselves exceed any regulatory threshold, they contain enough mercury to cause a significant health risk.
If a release is not cleaned up properly and mercury vapors are inhaled, residents could develop health problems.
Section 104 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980 as amended, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 9604 (also known as the Superfund law), gives EPA the legal authority to respond to mercury releases. The Superfund law also gives EPA the authority to identify the party responsible for the release, order those who improperly handle mercury to take appropriate response, and/or compel them to pay for a cleanup.
CERCLA also requires that any mercury release above the quantity of one pound – one pound of mercury is approximately two tablespoons – must be reported to the National Response Center at (800) 424-8802.
The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act requires that any release of mercury greater than one pound be reported to the local emergency planning committee, state emergency response commission, or local response personnel by the owner/operator.
HUMAN HEALTH EFFECTS OF MERCURY
Mercury releases present a serious environmental and public health problem. Inhaling mercury vapors – which are colorless and odorless – can cause irreversible damage to the brain and kidneys. The central nervous system, eyes and respiratory system can also be affected by mercury. Developing fetuses and young children are the most sensitive to mercury exposure. Mercury exposure can be detected in the body through blood and urine tests.
Mercury can also enter the body through contact with the skin (absorption) or by swallowing (ingestion), although these two routes of exposure are considered less harmful than inhalation with respect to mercury.
If released in a business or home, mercury can pose a danger to people if not properly cleaned up and removed. If not quickly and properly cleaned up and removed, it can easily spread by walking (tracking), sweeping or vacuuming, thereby presenting a potential health threat to occupants and others. Tracking throughout a building or into automobiles has spread mercury contamination to many other locations in many instances.
Health impacts will increase over time if the mercury is not properly removed. Mercury vapors are heavier than air and tend to remain near the floor or mercury source, but can get into the ventilation system and be spread throughout a house or business. Indoors, mercury vapors will accumulate in the air. People can absorb mercury into their bodies when they breathe the vapors. If mercury is released in a home, exposure to mercury vapors can be a concern, especially for young children and pregnant women because of the amount of time spent in the home. Also, children five years of age and younger are considered to be particularly sensitive to the effects of mercury on the nervous system since their central nervous system is still developing. When pregnant women are exposed to mercury, the mercury can pass from the mother's body to the developing fetus; it can also be passed to a nursing infant through breast milk.
WHO TO CONTACT
If you have health questions related to mercury, please contact the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at (913) 551-1310, or the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit Poison Control Center at (800) 421-9916.
You should contact your physician to get tested for mercury if you or others have been exposed.
In case of an emergency, please contact EPA's emergency spill phone at (913) 281-0991.
If you know of a mercury release that has occurred that was not cleaned up properly, or if you have questions regarding the proper disposal of mercury, please call the number in your area.
EMERGENCY MERCURY SPILLS
MERCURY DISPOSAL QUESTIONS
For additional information on mercury and mercury releases visit our website at:
Also, there is a recycling program established specifically for thermostats.
For more information visit our website at: http://www.thermostat-recycle.org/