Common mercury-containing items
- blood pressure gauges
- fluorescent lights
- high intensity discharge (HID) lamps
- silent wall switches
- thermometers, medical and household
Common hazardous ingredients
Mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
The most common household products containing mercury are fluorescent bulbs.
Most thermostats, other than electronic thermostats, contain mercury. To determine if a thermostat contains mercury, remove the front plate. Mercury-containing thermostats contain one or more small mercury switches.
PCBs are contained in the black rectangular ballasts of fluorescent light fixtures manufactured before 1978. Assume a ballast contains PCBs unless it was made after 1978 or if it has a clear label stating no PCBs.
Metallic mercury vapors are harmful if inhaled and pollute the air and water when incinerated or disposed of improperly in landfills. Children and pregnant women are at most risk. PCBs, an oily substance, are harmful if inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin. They are also a suspected human carcinogen.
What to do if you break an item that contains mercury:
- Evacuate the room, turn off the air conditioning/heating system and ventilate the area with fans and windows for at least 12 hours.
- Use gloves.
- Remove jewelry – mercury may attach to gold or silver.
- Avoid vacuuming or sweeping as this will spread the mercury around. Do not use cleaning products, they may react with the mercury.
- Try to wipe or scrape up mercury and place all cleaning items, gloves or other contaminated items into a sealed container. Label the container "contains mercury."
- Take the sealed container to a household hazardous waste collection facility or event.
Concerned about a mercury exposure? Contact Oregon Poison Control Center. For mercury-containing fish advisories, contact Oregon Health Division.
What to do if you have a PCB leak or break an item that contains PCB
Ballasts sometimes develop leaks; liquid dripping from an overhead fluorescent fixture is probably from the ballast and may be PCB.
- Avoid contact with skin by using gloves or improvising with plastic bags over your hands.
- Clean up the spills with soapy water on paper towels.
- Dispose of ballast, used towels and gloves in a sealed bag or container.
- Take care to turn gloves (or improvised plastic bags) inside out as you pull them off. Removing them should be the final step before sealing the bag.
- Wash your hands.
- Bring to a hazardous waste facility or collection event.
- Have an electrician replace the ballast.
Fluorescent light bulbs – both CFLs and long-tube bulbs – are hazardous waste and should not be tossed in the trash. Some hardware stores will take back your burned-out bulbs.
Best: Take to a hazardous waste facility or to a collection event.
If you are having a new thermostat installed by a professional, ask them to recycle the thermostat.
- digital, dial gauge (aneroid) or alcohol thermometers
- digital, dial gauge (aneroid) or automatic blood pressure gauges
- light-emitting diodes, or LEDs
- low-mercury fluorescent lamps
- programmable electronic thermostats
- spring balance (aneroid) barometers.
- standard wall switches instead of silent switches.