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Alternative to Mercury Filled Thermometers


Mercury thermometers are found throughout the universities laboratories. They can be found in water baths, inside refrigerators, or even built into laboratory appliances. The mercury in an intact thermometer is a benefit to research. However, to use a mercury filled thermometer the laboratory must also have available a mercury spill kit (which can be quite expensive) for any accidental spillage of mercury from a broken thermometer.

Mercury is toxic to humans and the environment. The EPA regulates any compound containing mercury as a hazardous waste at 0.2 mg/l. OSHA regulates the workplace atmosphere at the legal airborne permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 0.1 mg/cubic meter, not to be exceeded at any time. Exposure over time may damage the nervous system, the kidneys, or cause birth defects.

The alternative to using a mercury filled thermometer is to purchase an alcohol filled thermometer.  These thermometers are just as accurate as mercury thermometers but are less hazardous to humans and the environment from accidental breakage of these thermometers.  Also, alcohol thermometers do not have to be disposed of as “Hazardous Waste” unlike mercury thermometers.

Alcohol thermometers are also more cost effective than purchasing a mercury spill kit.  Mercury spill kits can cost as much as a few hundred dollars.  Where alcohol thermometers only cost $40-$60.

So The Research Safety Office would like to encourage all labs to consider switching to the alternative alcohol thermometers. Any labs that do switch to alcohol thermometers and need to dispose of their mercury thermometers may do so the same way they schedule a hazardous chemical waste pickup by contacting labsafety@uthsc.edu