Mercury Thermometer Exchange

Are you using mercury thermometers in incubators, water baths or other applications where a non-mercury thermometer would work just as well? Although mercury thermometers are not harmful when used properly, they pose a threat to human health and the environment when broken or disposed of as trash.  The breakage of mercury thermometers is one of the most common accidents in research labs. When mercury thermometers break, drops of the liquid metal become lodged in floor cracks and behind equipment. Depending on the amount spilled and air movement within the lab, the mercury vapor concentration in a lab with "hidden" mercury spills may exceed safe limits. A spill is more dangerous when mercury thermometers break in ovens or in incubators because mercury evaporates readily at high temperatures, creating high mercury concentrations*.

The key factors of a Mercury Thermometer Exchange Program are to:

  1. Reduce the health and environmental risks of mercury pollution
  2. Prevent laboratory closures due to the clean-up of broken mercury thermometers
  3. Reduction of mercury thermometer spill clean-up waste generated
  4. Cost reductions associated with mercury spill kits, clean-up hours, and disposal costs (it currently costs UAF $10.56 per pound to dispose of mercury)
  5. Exchange mercury thermometers one for one with non-mercury thermometers for FREE (sorry, you may not exchange broken thermometers)

Are you interested in participating in this program?

Through Loss Prevention Funds, UAF has purchased several different types of thermometers that are typically found in a laboratory. The following thermometers are available for exchange:

Partial Immersion Length mm (in) Total Immersion Length mm (in)
-10 to 110 C 203 (8) -20 to 110 C 305 (12)
-20 to 150 C 305 (12) -20 to 150 C 305 (12)
-10 to 260 C 405 (16) -10 to 260 C 350 (14)
-35 to 50 C 305 (12) -35 to 50 C 305 (12)


Fridge/Freezer -40 to 27 C

Max/Min -40 to 122 F*

*Can only be exchanged with a mercury max/min thermometer

Don’t know the difference between total and partial immersion? Please contact Andy Krumhardt at 907-474-5197 or for more information or to arrange an exchange.

In the meantime….. if you break a mercury thermometer, here is what you do.

  1. Isolate the area and do not let people walk through the contaminated zone. Mercury easily disperses into fine particles upon impact, becoming invisible and thus much harder to avoid.
  2. Do not attempt to clean up the spill yourself—especially with a normal vacuum cleaner. Call EHSRM, Division of Hazmat at 907-474-5617 or 907-474-5413. They will bring up a vacuum specifically designed for mercury.
  3. Report all spills into sinks to EHSRM so that residual mercury can be removed from the sink trap immediately.

If you are not on the UAF campus and break a thermometer, here is what you do*:

  1. Isolate the immediate area. Mercury can be easily tracked throughout a lab by people walking on the spill.
  2. Avoid exposure and injury by wearing nitrile gloves (mercury is absorbed through the skin), a lab coat, and safety glasses.
  3. Use tongs or other tools to pick up glass from the broken thermometer.
  4. Mercury droplets can be swept into a container with an index card.
  5. Carefully inspect the bench top and floors where the thermometer was broken to ensure that all the mercury is cleaned up.  Mercury breaks into very small droplets that are difficult to see when spilled and can spread over a large area.
  6. Package the spilled mercury and broken thermometer and contaminated objects in a sealable plastic container.
  7. Label the container with a Hazardous Waste Label.

Remember: Never use a regular vacuum to clean up a spill!

*Courtesy University of Pennsylvania