Mercury Poisoning

What about thimerosal in vaccines?

Some consumers are concerned about the use of thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, in vaccines. Since 2001, with the exception of some influenza vaccines (flu), thimerosal is not used as a preservative in routinely recommended childhood vaccines.

To learn more about this use of thimerosal, please see information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on medicines that contain mercury and thimerosal in vaccines, and information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on thimerosal in vaccines.

Thermometers (Fever)

Mercury fever thermometers are made of glass the size of a straw, with a silvery-white liquid inside, and used to be a common item in many households, schools and medical facilities. Now it is nearly impossible to buy one as digital thermometers have become the norm. There are two general types of mercury thermometers that measure body temperature: (1) oral/rectal/baby thermometers, containing about 0.61 grams of mercury; and (2) basal temperature thermometers, containing about 2.25 grams of mercury.

The presence of a mercury thermometer itself is not a problem. However glass thermometers may break while in use, releasing harmful mercury vapor and exposing people in the immediate indoor area. Mercury thermometers are also likely to break after being discarded in regular trash, resulting in mercury releases in the landfill or trash incinerator, or during transportation to either location. It is for this reason The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to remove mercury thermometers from their homes to prevent accidental exposure and poisoning.

Restrictions on Sales of Mercury Fever Thermometers

In order to help remove the threat of mercury fever thermometer breakage and subsequent release of mercury vapor indoors, some states and municipalities have passed laws or ordinances prohibiting the manufacture, sale and/or distribution of these thermometers. As of October 2, 2008, thirteen states have laws that limit the manufacture, sale and/or distribution of mercury fever thermometers:

  1. California,
  2. Connecticut,
  3. Illinois,
  4. Indiana,
  5. Maine,
  6. Maryland,
  7. Massachusetts,
  8. Michigan,
  9. Minnesota,
  10. New Hampshire,
  11. Rhode Island,
  12. Oregon,
  13. Washington.

The Health Care Without Harm Web site presents information on specific state laws and municipal ordinances.

Alternatives: Mercury-free Fever Thermometers

A variety of accurate and reliable mercury-free fever thermometers are available at your local pharmacy. Alternatives most comparable in cost and use to the mercury fever thermometer include battery and solar powered digital thermometers. These can all be used orally, rectally, or in the armpit. You should choose a thermometer that is easy to use and read.

If choosing a battery powered digital thermometer, choose one that contains a replaceable battery; some are not replaceable. The battery is a button cell battery and may contain a small amount of mercury, so it should be recycled through a local battery collection program or household hazardous waste collection center. Consult your local or state collection program regarding where batteries should be taken.

What To Do If a Mercury Fever Thermometer Breaks

A broken mercury thermometer is a serious health threat. If mercury spills out of a broken thermometer and is not cleaned up, it will evaporate into invisible vapor, potentially reaching dangerous levels in indoor air. If a thermometer breaks in your home, please follow EPA's recommended cleanup steps to carefully clean up and dispose of the broken glass and silver mercury beads. These recommendations will help minimize any exposure to released mercury vapor.

Disposal of Old Mercury Fever Thermometers

EPA encourages the recycling of mercury fever thermometers rather than disposing of them in regular household trash. Recycling is one of the best ways to help prevent the release of mercury to the environment by keeping mercury out of landfills and trash incinerators.

Many states and local agencies have developed collection/exchange programs for mercury-containing devices such as thermometers. Some counties and cities also have household hazardous waste collection programs. For information about these programs, contact your local officials to find out when and where a collection will be held in your area.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/12/2016

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