Mercury Products

Products Containing Mercury

Mercury is used in a wide variety of household products. These items release mercury into the environment and home when broken, mishandled, or disposed of. Proper care is important when dealing with mercury-containing products. If spilled, mercury absorbs into many household materials while slowly evaporating into the air over time, allowing for exposure. Knowing what products and items contain mercury and handling them properly will limit the risk of mercury exposure. Common products often have a simple and environmentally friendly alternative. Some examples are listed below:

  • Athletic shoes - Some athletic shoes with flashing lights in the soles contain mercury.
  • Barometers - A barometer is an instrument used to measure pressure in the atmosphere; most of the older devices contain liquid mercury. A Bourdon tube gauge is an alternative to mercury-containing barometers.
  • Batteries - Before 1980, most batteries used in homes contained mercury. Current mercury batteries are "button" shaped and are used in hearing aids, watches, and other items requiring a small battery. In the last decade, the United States battery industry achieved a 99% reduction in mercury by using alternative materials. Silver oxide, zinc-air, and alkaline batteries are the best alternatives for replacing batteries produced before 1994.
  • Blood pressure gauges - Home blood pressure gauges contain almost 1.5 pounds of mercury. An aneroid blood-pressure unit is a mercury-free option.
  • Clothing irons - Some irons have an automatic shut-off switch containing mercury. Irons with mercury-free automatic shut-off switches are available.
  • HID bulbs are often used in settings that require high amounts of light, such as gymnasiums and shopping centers. Fluorescent lamps are good energy savers, using up to 50% less electricity than incandescent lights. This energy savings reduces mercury emissions from power plants. Alternatives are labeled as low-mercury lamps and often can be recognized by their green end-caps or green lettering. Do not confuse low-mercury lamps with energy-efficient lamps; low-mercury lamps use about the same amount of energy as normal fluorescent bulbs.
  • Household bulbs - Fluorescent, high-intensity discharge (HID) and neon lamps contain mercury, often in vapor form. Mercury is released when bulbs are broken or incinerated.
  • Household switches and thermostats - Mercury conducts electricity and is used in many household and appliance switches, including switches found inside appliances. Examples of appliances that have mercury switches are thermostats, clothing irons and top-loading freezers, and washing machines. Mechanical and electronic switches are available in mercury-free versions.
  • Old chemistry sets and toys - Children's chemistry sets were once sold with liquid mercury. Some toys contain a drop of mercury that is moved through a maze, called a mercury maze. Check chemistry sets and toys to be sure they are mercury-free.
  • Medical products - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers a list of drug and biologic products containing mercury.
    • Mercurochrome is a skin antiseptic used to treat cuts and abrasions. It is not commonly used. Mercury-free alternatives include Neosporin and Mycin.
    • Thimerosal (about 48% mercury) has been used in antiseptic creams and as preservatives in pharmaceutical solutions including contact lens solutions. While most antiseptics are now free of Thimerosal, it can be present in older medications and creams. Talk to your pharmacist about alternatives.
  • Microwave ovens - Mercury vapor bulbs were used in older microwave ovens. However, new models do not contain mercury.
  • Paints - Latex paint produced before 1992 had large amounts of mercury to prevent fungus growth. Mercury vapors were released when paint was applied. Use latex paint manufactured after 1992.
  • Pesticides - Fungicides and biocides produced before 1994 used mercury toxins to kill fungus, weeds, and other pests. Most new pesticides are mercury-free.
  • Thermometers - Mercury is used in thermometers because it expands and contracts evenly with temperature changes. Alternatives include the electronic (digital) or red alcohol thermometers.