Alternatives to Mercury Thermometers in the Laboratory

Mercury is persistent in the environment. Its physical and chemical properties have been used to man's benefit since it's discovery in pre-history. Unfortunately, like many things man uses to his benefit there are disadvantages and even risks associated with use.

Mercury thermometers in laboratory settings are ubiquitous. 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. Once the thermometer is cracked or shattered it becomes a liability.

Represented below are non-mercury thermometers.


Digital Electronic Thermometer


Alcohol Thermometer


Precision Alcohol Thermometer

A shattered or cracked thermometer in a laboratory sends droplets of mercury throughout the work area. Some of those droplets are visible some are not. If the mercury comes into contact with an electronic circuit board your lab may need a new computer or appliance as the mercury may render it inoperable. Also the area that is contaminated with mercury now needs to be cordoned off and decontaminated. No work should occur in the contaminated area due to the possibility of the contamination being spread further.

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.

Why take the risk? Switch your thermometers out with non-toxic alternatives.

Non- Toxic Thermometer Resources:

These are just a few of the vendors. You may be able to find other sources.

Mercury Thermometers may be turned into EHS. Call the Hazardous Waste Division at 6-7055 to report a mercury spill or schedule a pickup of the intact thermometers.

Safety Alert Index