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How to Dispose of Mercury

In spite of mercury's high toxicity, it is still found in home thermometers and florescent light bulbs. Disposing of household items containing mercury or disposing of industrial-use mercury requires knowledge of local, state and federal requirements so that you dispose of the mercury in accordance with the law.

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  1. Research your area's recycling programs to see if there is a program for disposal of mercury or items containing mercury. Call the local government's environmental office, the state environmental office or check out the Earth 911 website to do a nationwide search of locality requirements. For example, California, Florida, Ohio and Vermont all have thermometer exchange programs.

  2. Learn state and local mercury disposal requirements. Often, mercury is included in state and local hazardous waste legislation. Find out if individual households are exempt from mercury disposal steps. City ordinances are available from the city hall and local libraries. Most municipalities ordinances are also posted on the Municode website. State statutes are available on the state's legislature website.

  3. Familiarize yourself with the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Land Disposal Restrictions Program if you are disposing of mercury for a business of any size. Detailed information is available on the EPA's website.

  4. Deal with the mercury according to local and EPA guidelines. If you have an actual spill of more than the a thermometer's worth but less than or equal to two tablespoons--for example, if you have one pound (remember that mercury is literally a heavy metal)--the EPA requires that you evacuate the immediate area. Make sure no one walks through the spill, open the room to the outside as much as possible while closing off the room to all other rooms. Turn the room temperature down and leave the area yourself. Go the nearest phone and call either your local or state environmental agency or health agency.

  5. Call the National Response Center hotline if you have a spill of two tablespoons or more. It's federal law that you must call about the spill. The NRC hotline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (800) 424-8802.

  6. Transport mercury if necessary in a larger, air-tight container, such as a sealed plastic container. Mark it "Mercury Do Not Open" and take it to the city recycling center or the city hazardous waste collection site if your city has one. Tell them what's inside the box and leave it with them. They'll know what to do with it.

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