Jump to main content.

Consumer and Commercial Products

Elemental, or metallic, mercury has properties that have led to its use in many different consumer and commercial products and industrial sectors. It conducts electricity, forms alloys with other metals, and expands in response to changes in temperature and pressure. Some mercury compounds are used as preservatives in medicines and other products.

While some manufacturers have reduced or eliminated their use of mercury in consumer and commercial or industrial products, there are still many existing items in the marketplace that contain mercury. EPA encourages individuals, organizations and businesses to use non-mercury alternatives and to recycle old or unused mercury-containing products whenever possible.

Products of Interest to Many Consumers Basic Information on Consumer and Commercial Products Reducing Use of Mercury-Containing Products Recycling or Disposing of Mercury-Containing Products

Non-Mercury Alternative Products

Compact Fluorescents (CFLs) and Mercury

ENERGY STAR-qualified CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy than incandescent light bulbs, and last up to 10 times longer.

CFLs contain mercury.

Broken a CFL other fluorescent light bulb?

Need to dispose of a burned-out CFL? The best option is to recycle!

Products of Interest to Many Consumers


Some antique clocks, barometers and mirrors contain elemental mercury.

Top of page


Manufacturers around the world have long used mercury in batteries to prevent the buildup of hydrogen gas, which can cause the battery to bulge and leak.  According to a 2004 report for the European Commission (104 pp, 969K, about PDF)Exit EPA Disclaimer, global battery production still accounts for about a third of total global demand for mercury based on data for the year 2000, and over 95% of this usage is attributed to battery makers outside the United States.

In the U.S., however, the use of mercury in consumer batteries has declined sharply. In the early 1980s, U.S. battery manufacture constituted the largest single domestic use of mercury - over 1,000 tons annually. By 1993, many battery manufacturers had begun selling mercury-free alkaline batteries. This became the national standard in 1996 with passage of the federal Mercury-Containing Battery Management Act. Today, most batteries made in the U.S. do not contain added mercury. The two exceptions are mercuric oxide batteries and button cell batteries.

Mercuric Oxide Batteries:

In mercuric oxide batteries, mercury is used as an electrode rather than an additive to control gas buildup. The mercury accounts for up to 40% of the battery weight and cannot be reduced without reducing the energy output of the battery. Mercuric oxide button cells once were widely used in hearing aids but now are prohibited under federal law. Larger mercuric oxide batteries still are produced for military and medical equipment where a stable current and long service life is essential.  Federal law allows these batteries to be sold, but only if the manufacturer has established a system to collect the waste batteries and ensure that the mercury is properly managed. Users are prohibited from disposing of spent mercuric oxide batteries except through the collection system established by the manufacturer.

Button Cell Batteries:

Button cell batteries are miniature batteries in the shape of a coin or button that are used to provide power for small portable electronic devices.  The four major technologies used for miniature batteries are: lithium, zinc air, alkaline, and silver oxide.  Lithium miniature batteries contain no intentionally-added mercury.  However, small amounts of mercury are still added to most zinc air, alkaline and silver oxide miniature batteries in order to prevent the formation of internal gases that can cause leakage.  Zinc air batteries are used mainly in hearing aids; silver oxide batteries are used in watches and cameras; and alkaline manganese batteries are used in digital thermometers, calculators, toys and a myriad of other products requiring a compact power source. 

While the federal Battery Management Act of 1996 prohibits the sale of mercuric oxide button cells, it specifically allows the sale of alkaline manganese button cells containing mercury content of up to 25 milligrams (mgs).  At that time, the technology did not exist to control the formation of gas in miniature batteries without using mercury. The Battery Act is silent regarding the mercury content of silver oxide and zinc air button cell batteries.  According to a 2005 report by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection Exit EPA Disclaimer, button cell batteries sold by U.S. manufacturers in 2002 had the following average mercury content:  silver oxide, 2.5 mg; zinc air, 8.5 mg; and alkaline, 10.8 mg.  U.S. manufacturers continue to pursue the development of reliable “no mercury” formulas to eliminate mercury altogether from these button cell batteries.  (Lithium button cell batteries currently do not contain mercury but they may pose a fire risk, according to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.)

Mercury from button cell batteries can be released to the environment during various stages of the product life cycle, but primarily during manufacturing and disposal.  The use and disposal of mercury-added button cells are unregulated at the federal level. They do not have to be labeled; it is legal to dispose of them in the household trash; and they rarely are collected for recycling in most U.S. jurisdictions.  Some states are now considering whether the disposal of button cell batteries should be regulated or whether recycling should be encouraged.  Because button batteries currently are not widely targeted for recycling, almost all of this mercury presumably ends up in the municipal solid waste stream where it is either incinerated or landfilled.

Additional information on button cell batteries is available in a 2004 report from the State of Maine: An Investigation of Alternatives to Miniature Batteries Containing Mercury (PDF) (76 pp, 440K, about PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer

Top of page

Dental Amalgam

Mercury Use in Dental Amalgam:

The silver fillings used by dentists to restore teeth are composed of a metal “amalgam” containing roughly 50% elemental mercury and 50% other metals (mostly silver with some tin and copper). Amalgam is one of the most commonly used tooth fillings, and is considered to be a safe, sound, and effective treatment for tooth decay. Amalgam has been the most widely used tooth filling material for decades. It remains popular because it is strong, lasting and low-cost. Dental amalgams are considered medical devices and are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Information on the amount of mercury used in dental amalgamExit EPA Disclaimer in the United States is available in a fact sheet from the Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA).

Top of page

Safety of Dental Amalgam Fillings:

The mercury found in amalgam fillings has raised some safety concerns over the years.  Amalgam can release small amounts of mercury vapor over time, and patients can absorb these vapors by inhaling or ingesting them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is little scientific evidence that the health of the vast majority of people with dental amalgam is compromised, nor that removing amalgam fillings has a beneficial effect on health. A 2004 review of the scientific literature conducted for the U.S. Public Health Service Exit EPA Disclaimer found “insufficient evidence of a link between dental mercury and health problems, except in rare instances of allergic reaction.”  For more information on dental amalgam use, benefits and health issues, see the Web site for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consumer update on dental amalgam advises, as a precaution, that pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure should discuss dental treatment options with their health care practitioner. FDA, which regulates the use of dental amalgam, is currently reviewing the scientific evidence about safe use, particularly for sensitive subpopulations, as part of a rule-making to classify dental amalgam as a class II device with special controls. It expects to report on any changes to classification and material or labeling controls in 2009. Such changes could impact the rules for the marketing of dental amalgam.

Top of page

Alternatives to Dental Amalgam Fillings:

Amalgam use is declining because the incidence of dental decay is decreasing and because improved substitute materials are now available for certain applications.  If dental patients do not want to use mercury amalgam, there are several non-mercury restorative materials available. Presently, there are six types of restorative materials: mercury amalgam, resin composite, glass ionomer, resin ionomer, porcelain, and gold alloys.  Each type of restorative material has advantages and disadvantages. Some factors that influence the choice of restorative material used include: cost, strength, durability, location of cavity, and aesthetics.

The choice of dental treatment rests with dental professionals and their patients, so you should talk with your dentist about dental treatment options that are available.  The American Dental Association provides a brochure for dental patients (PDF) (6 pp, 133K, about PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer on the advantages and disadvantages of various types of dental fillings.

Top of page

Environmental Releases of Mercury from Dental Amalgam:

Mercury from dental amalgam is a major source of controllable mercury released to the environment and likely will remain a significant concern into the future. Mercury from dental amalgam is released to the environment through three primary pathways: in wastewater, as solid waste, and through cremation of bodies containing dental amalgam.

Mercury Amalgam in Wastewater: The majority of dental mercury amalgam is discharged from dental offices to wastewater treatment systems where it usually settles out in sewage sludge that is then incinerated, heat treated, landfilled, and/or land applied as biosolids (also known as “sludge”). In 2008, EPA estimates there are approximately 160,000 dentists working in 120,000 dental offices that use or remove amalgam in the United States, almost all of which discharge their wastewater exclusively to sewage treatment plants.

Most dental offices currently use some type of basic filtration system to reduce the amount of mercury solids passing into the sewer system. However, the adoption of best management practices and the installation of amalgam separators, which generally have a removal efficiency of 95%, have been shown to reduce discharges even further. In October 2007, the American Dental Association adopted new Best Management Practices for Amalgam Waste (PDF) (8 pp, 118K, about PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer that recommends the use of dental amalgam separators and the recycling of captured amalgam solid waste.

Mercury Amalgam in Solid Waste:  Waste amalgam solids that are improperly disposed in medical waste (“red bag”) containers will be either incinerated or autoclaved, thus causing volatilized mercury to escape into the environment. Mercury amalgam also accumulates on consumable dental supplies, such as cotton swabs and gauze, and these materials are usually disposed in the regular trash. In local areas where trash is incinerated, the mercury in this trash can be released via air emissions. To avoid such mercury air emissions, dental offices should properly dispose of captured amalgam solid waste by sending it to a dental waste recycler.

Mercury Emissions from Crematoria:  Dental amalgam also contributes to mercury emissions through the cremation of bodies containing dental amalgam.  A mercury flow worksheet developed for EPA Region 5 estimated that in the United States in 2005 almost 3,000 kilograms (6,613 lbs.) of mercury were released to the environment from crematoria. There remains a lack of good empirical data on the magnitude of mercury emissions from crematoria.  At this time, no federal or state regulations restrict mercury emissions from crematoria.

Top of page

Actions to Reduce Dental Mercury in Wastewater:

Federal Action: At the federal level, U.S. EPA regulates the discharge of pollutants to wastewater, but does not currently regulate mercury discharges from dental offices. EPA establishes national regulations known as effluent guidelines and pretreatment standards to reduce pollutant discharges from specific industries that discharge either directly to surface waters or indirectly through publicly-owned treatment works (POTWs).

As part of an annual review of its effluent guidelines and pretreatment standards, EPA evaluated dental mercury management and the potential impacts on POTWs. The agency compiled information on state and local dental amalgam control programs, mercury discharges from dental offices, best management practices (BMPs), and control technologies such as amalgam separators.  For amalgam separators, EPA looked at the frequency with which they are currently used; their effectiveness in reducing discharges to POTWs; and the capital and annual costs associated with their installation and operation.  EPA also conducted a POTW pass-through analysis on mercury for the industry. The results of the study are summarized in the following report:  EPA’s Health Services Industry Detailed Study: Dental Amalgam (August 2008) (PDF) (76 pp, 1.0 MB, about PDF).

At this time, EPA does not think national pretreatment standards for dental mercury discharges are appropriate. While this is a possibility for the future, EPA has identified a number of successful voluntary programs demonstrating that there are opportunities for pollution prevention and adoption of best management practices without federal regulation. Moreover, the dental industry is working towards voluntarily reducing its mercury discharges. In the meantime, the use of mercury in dentistry is decreasing in the U.S. due to mercury-free fillings and improved overall dental health.

State, Tribal and Local Actions:  Many state environmental agencies have initiated efforts to reduce mercury in wastewater by focusing on the dental sector. State and tribal agencies are beginning to require that many local wastewater treatment facilities meet very low mercury effluent limits in response to three key factors:

  1. EPA's revised water quality criterion for methlymercury, issued in 2001, that was for the first time based on methlymercury concentrations in fish tissue rather than in water;  
  2. The increasing number of mercury-related fish advisories being issued across the country; and
  3. The availability of more sensitive analytical techniques, which allow wastewater treatment agencies and regulatory agencies that issue their discharge permits to measure publicly-owned treatment works (POTW) effluent for mercury.

Some state and local governments have implemented mandatory and voluntary programs to reduce dental mercury discharges.  As of 2008, eleven states and at least 19 localities have mandatory pretreatment programs in place that require the use of dental mercury amalgam separators. Additionally, at least four States and six POTWs have voluntary programs to reduce mercury discharges from dental offices, though success rates vary greatly for the voluntary programs.  More information can be found in EPA’s Health Services Industry Detailed Study: Dental Amalgam (August 2008) (PDF) (76 pp, 1.0 MB, about PDF).

Increasing numbers of local POTW pretreatment programs are beginning to ask, and in some cases require, dental offices to reduce their discharges of mercury. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) Exit EPA Disclaimer, formerly the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA), has published information for local wastewater treatment agencies on the issue of mercury contamination of wastewater. In 2006, NACWA published a White Paper on Controlling Mercury in Wastewater Discharges from Dental Clinics (PDF) (January 2006) (14 pp, 232K, about PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer. This White Paper was meant to help POTWs and other organizations understand some of the technical issues associated with the generation of dental clinic wastewater, and to provide introductory information for those communities considering formal programs requiring the installation of amalgam separators.

Additional information is available on state dental waste management programs:

Top of page

Fluorescent Light Bulbs

A fluorescent light bulb (also referred to as a “lamp”) is a gas-discharge bulb that uses electricity to excite mercury vapor. The excited mercury atoms produce short-wave ultraviolet light that causes a phosphor to fluoresce, producing visible light. Mercury is an essential component of all fluorescent light bulbs, and allows these bulbs to be energy-efficient light sources.

Top of page

Types of Fluorescent Bulbs:

The most widely used types of fluorescent light bulbs in the United States are the linear fluorescent light and the compact fluorescent light (CFL).  Less common types of fluorescent bulbs sold in the United States include bug zappers, high output fluorescent lights and cold-cathode fluorescent lights.  Additional information about the different types of fluorescent bulbs is available in a fact sheet on mercury use in lighting Exit EPA Disclaimer from the Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA). 

Linear fluorescent light - The standard straight “linear” tube comes in a variety of diameters and lengths.  For example, the T-4 is ½ inch in diameter and often used under kitchen cabinets.  The T-8 is 1 inch in diameter and the T-12 is 1½ inches in diameter.  Variations of the linear tube include the “U-tube” bent in half to form a U-shape, and the “circline” tube bent into a circle.  Linear, U-tube and circline fluorescents are used for general illumination purposes, and are widely used in commercial buildings, schools, industrial facilities, hospitals and residences.

Compact fluorescent light (CFL) - This is a short bulb made of a tube about the diameter of a pencil that has been either folded or twisted, resulting in an overall size that rivals a standard incandescent light bulb.  Since the CFL fits into a standard light socket, the bulb and fixture design possibilities are vastly increased over that of a fluorescent tube.  CFLs are now available in a variety of shapes, including spiral (twisted), short tube (folded over) and globe.  A globe CFL is either round or A-shaped glass that contains within it a spiral or folded tube.

Bug zappers – These devices contain a fluorescent bulb that emits ultraviolet light, attracting unwanted insects.

High output fluorescent light (HO) These bulbs are used in warehouses, industrial facilities, and storage areas where bright lighting is necessary. High output lamps are also used for outdoor lighting because of their lower starting temperature, and as grow lamps.  The light emitted is much brighter than that of traditional fluorescent lamps. However, they are less energy-efficient because they require a higher electrical current.

Cold-cathode fluorescent light (CCFL) – These are small diameter, fluorescent tubes that are used for backlighting in liquid crystal displays (LCDs) on a wide range of electronic equipment, including computers, flat screen TVs, cameras, camcorders, cash registers, digital projectors, copiers, and fax machines. They are also used for backlighting instrument panels and entertainment systems in automobiles. Cold-cathode fluorescent lamps operate at a much higher voltage than conventional fluorescent lamps, which eliminates the need for heating the electrodes and increases the efficiency of the lamp 10 to 30 percent. They can be made of different colors, and have high brightness and a long life.

Top of page

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs):

General Information - EPA encourages Americans to use compact fluorescent lights for residential lighting in order to save energy.  Switching from traditional incandescent bulbs to CFLs is an effective, simple change everyone can make to help use less electricity at home and prevent greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global climate change.  The Energy Star program, operated jointly by EPA and the Department of Energy, provides the following information:

Mercury Release - CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury (on average about five milligrams) sealed within the glass tubing.  No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact (not broken) or in use, but CFLs can break and release mercury vapor if dropped or roughly handled. EPA encourages consumers to handle and use CFLs safely. Be careful when removing the bulb from its packaging, installing it, or replacing it. More information is provided in the Energy Star fact sheet: CFLs and Mercury (PDF) (3 pp, 163K, about PDF)

Cleaning Up a Broken Bulb - If a CFL breaks in your home, you should follow EPA’s recommended steps to carefully clean up and dispose of broken bulbs. These recommendations will help to minimize any exposure to released mercury vapor.

Additional Information on Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs):

Amount of Mercury in Fluorescent Bulbs:

The following information on mercury content and mercury use is taken from a fact sheet on mercury use in lighting from the Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA) Exit EPA Disclaimer.  This data was provided to NEWMOA by lamp manufacturers.

Individual Fluorescent Bulbs - About 60 percent of all fluorescent lamps sold in the U.S. in 2004 contained 10 mg of mercury or less. The remaining 40 percent contained more than 10 mg and up to 100 mg of mercury.  Four-foot linear fluorescent lamps contained an average of 13.3 mg, with a high of 70 mg and a low of 2.5 mg.  Compact fluorescents (CFLs) had the least amount of mercury per lamp in 2004; two-thirds of CFLs contained 5 mg of mercury or less, while 96 percent contained 10 mg or less.

Total Mercury Use – The table below presents the total amount of mercury in fluorescent light bulbs sold in the U.S. during calendar years 2001 and 2004 for all bulb manufacturers.

Lamp Type
2001 Total Mercury (lbs) Sold in U.S.
2004 Total Mercury (lbs) Sold in U.S.

Fluorescent (all types)




The total use of mercury in fluorescent bulbs declined between 2001 and 2004 by 14 percent. This decrease is likely due to manufacturers' efforts to reduce the mercury content per bulb.  However total mercury used in compact fluorescent bulbs increased nearly 70 percent between 2001 and 2004, which is likely due primarily to increased sales.

Since 2004, there has been a significant increase in the number of electronics utilizing cold-cathode fluorescent lights (CCFLs), often in a series used for illumination in screen displays. A wide variety of home and office equipment now utilize liquid-crystal display (LCD) screens, including computers, televisions, global positioning system (GPS) units, hand-held communications and entertainment systems, and digital cameras. Many automobiles now come with entertainment systems, navigation systems, and instrument panels that utilize LCD screens with backlighting that contain fluorescent bulbs. Many recreational vehicles also offer option packages that include flat-panel televisions that contain fluorescent bulbs and linear fluorescent bulb fixtures.

In recent years, government agencies, companies, and environmental organizations have heavily promoted the use of energy-efficient liner and compact fluorescent bulbs. The cost of CFLs has declined dramatically so that they are more affordable for consumers. These efforts and the growing sale of products with LCD screens will likely increase total mercury use in light bulbs to be reported to NEWMOA for 2007.

Top of page

Fluorescent Bulb Recycling and Disposal:

EPA encourages the recycling of burned out fluorescent bulbs rather than disposing of them in regular household trash.  Recycling of burned out fluorescents is one of the best ways to help prevent the release of mercury to the environment by keeping mercury out of landfills and incinerators.  Recycling of these bulbs also allows the reuse of the glass, metals and other materials that make up fluorescent lights.  EPA is now working with manufacturers and major U.S. retailers to develop, implement or expand recycling options for consumers.

Household hazardous waste collection facilities usually accept fluorescent bulbs. Find more information about collection and/or recycling programs.  Households and consumers can contact their state or local environmental regulatory agency for information about proper disposal options such as disposal in your household garbage if no other options are available. If your state or local environmental regulatory agency offers no other disposal options except your household garbage, place the fluorescent light bulb in two plastic bags and seal it before putting it into the outside trash, or other protected outside location, for the next normal trash collection.

Businesses can learn about how to properly recycle/dispose of used mercury-containing light bulbs by visiting EPA's Steps to Managing Your Universal Waste Lamps in an Environmentally-Safe Manner page.

Additional Information on Recycling Fluorescent Bulbs:

Top of page

Alternative Non-Mercury Light Bulbs:

Technology is not yet available to make general purpose, energy efficient light bulbs without mercury, although non-mercury bulbs have been developed recently for specific purposes, such as car headlights or store display lighting. Mercury-added bulbs such as fluorescents will therefore continue to be used, but should be managed as a hazardous waste and recycled at the end of their useful life. As discussed above, each state has specific regulations for businesses and homeowners regarding recycling or disposal of fluorescent bulbs.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs): LED technology is one option that, with more research and development, is expected to be an increasingly viable alternative to mercury-containing lamps in the future.    An LED is a semi-conductor diode that emits light when an electrical current is passed in the forward direction of the device through the LED circuit. The quality of light emitted from LED bulbs depends on the specific semi-conductor material used, and may appear blue (cooler) or white (warmer) in color.

LEDs have been used since the 1960s for some commercial applications, but they are just now reaching the levels of luminous output and power that allow more applications.  Today’s commercially available LEDs offer energy efficiency, maintenance savings, impact resistance, durability and other benefits.  They are significantly more energy efficient than incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. LEDs are now commonly used in commercial lighting applications such as stadium displays, billboards, traffic signals, street lights and exit signs, and more recently as indicator lights in automobiles, aircraft and elevators.

A promising new trend is the use of LEDs in more consumer products.  For example, numerous computer manufacturers are now selling laptop models with LED backlighting, which provides a brighter image with better contrast and also allows the liquid-crystal display (LCD) screen to be slimmer.  LED backlighting consumes less power compared to the conventional cold cathode fluorescent light (CCFL) backlighting found in most modern laptop displays, resulting in longer battery life.      

For most general lighting purposes, however, LEDs cannot yet compete with fluorescent bulbs because of their cost - especially when compared to the compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) on the market today. More research is needed to increase the energy efficiency and decrease the cost of LED technologies.  The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) ’s lighting research program is working with industry and energy organizations to encourage the development and commercialization of LED technologies.  DOE provides more information in a fact sheet on LED technology.

Necklaces and other Jewelry

There are some necklaces imported from Mexico that contain a glass pendant that contains mercury. The mercury-containing pendants can come in various shapes such as hearts, bottles, balls, saber teeth, and chili peppers.

Top of page


In the past mercury was used in many water-based latex paints as a fungicide to prevent the growth of bacteria. Its use in interior and exterior latex paint was discontinued in the United States in 1991.

Top of page

Switches and Relays

Switches are products or devices that open or close an electrical circuit, or a liquid or gas valve. Mercury-added switches include float switches, actuated by rising or falling liquid levels; tilt switches, actuated by a change in the switch position; pressure switches, actuated by a change in pressure; and temperature switches and flame sensors actuated by a change in temperature. Relays are products or devices that open or close electrical contacts to control the operation of other devices in the same or another electrical circuit. Relays are often used to turn on and off large current loads by supplying relatively small currents to a control circuit. Mercury-added relays include mercury displacement relays, mercury wetted reed relays, and mercury contact relays.

Top of page


EPA encourages consumers, businesses and other organizations to use non-mercury thermometers whenever possible. Accurate and reliable alternatives to mercury fever and laboratory thermometers are readily available at local pharmacies or through scientific and medical supply companies.

In a mercury thermometer, a glass tube is filled with mercury and a standard temperature scale is marked on the tube. With changes in temperature, the mercury expands and contracts in a consistent fashion and the temperature can be read from the scale. A mercury thermometer can be easily identified by the presence of a silver bulb. If the bulb is red, blue, purple, green or any other color, it is not a mercury thermometer.

Mercury thermometers can be used to determine body temperature (fever thermometers), liquid temperature, and vapor temperature. Mercury thermometers are used to measure the temperature of liquids and vapors in households, laboratory experiments at educational and medical institutions, and industrial applications. The Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA) provides a web site with basic information on mercury and non-mercury alternatives Exit EPA Disclaimer. Also provided are links to additional on-line resources.

Household Uses: Common household uses of mercury thermometers include fever thermometers and oven, candy and meat thermometers.

Educational and Medical Uses: Mercury thermometers may be used in many applications, including chemical experiments, water and acid baths, blood banks, ovens and incubators

Industrial Uses: Industrial applications include use in power plants and piping, chemical tanks and vats, heating and cooling equipment, breweries, canneries, bakeries, candy making, dairies, ships, wineries and distilleries, and paint kettles.

EPA has launched an effort to reduce the use of mercury-filled non-fever thermometers used in industrial settings where suitable alternatives exist.  EPA is developing an approach to obtain this goal through partnerships with ASTM, NIST, state organizations such as the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) and the Quicksilver Caucus, and others.  The agency is initiating a phase out and replacement effort in its own laboratories and is reviewing standards and methods that may require the use of mercury-filled thermometers in order to bring about the opportunity for the use of alternatives.   Read about EPA's effort to phase out the use of mercury-filled thermometers in industrial and laboratory settings.

Thermometer cleanup and disposal: If you break a thermometer while using it or if you improperly dispose of it, the thermometer will release mercury vapors that are harmful to human and ecological health. EPA provides information on what to do when a mercury fever thermometer breaks/spills. 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 collection program to find out whether you can drop your old thermometers off any time or whether you should wait for the next collection effort in your area. You can also use earth911.com to find collection programs in your area -- just type in "thermometer" or "mercury" and your zip code to get a list of programs that accept mercury-containing thermometers.

Top of page


Mercury thermostats use mercury tilt switches to sense and control room temperature through communication with heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. A mercury thermostat may contain one or more switches, depending on how many heating and cooling systems it activates.

The Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA), provides a fact sheet with information on the use of mercury in thermostats Exit EPA Disclaimer, including the amount of mercury used in thermostats in the US, non-mercury alternatives, and collection and recycling programs.

Mercury thermostats are unlikely to break or leak mercury while is use, but they need to be properly disposed of when being replaced. If a mercury thermostat is being replaced by a household occupant rather than by a heating and air conditioning professional, the old thermostat should be disposed of by taking it to a state or local household hazardous waste collection center for recycling. For information about these programs, contact your local collection program to find out whether you can drop your old thermostats off any time or whether you should wait for the next collection effort in your area. You can also use earth911.com to find collection programs in your area -- just type in "thermostat" or "mercury" and your zip code to get a list of programs that accept mercury-containing thermostats.

Top of page

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 (flu) vaccines, 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.

Top of page

Basic Information on Consumer and Commercial Products

EPA's Database on Mercury-Containing Products and Alternatives - This searchable database contains publicly available information on, consumer and commercial products that contain mercury, plus information on non-mercury alternatives.  This is a Windows database designed to be downloaded to operate on an individual computer.  The primary source of information on mercury-containing products is the IMERC Mercury-added Products Database, [no link] which is discussed below. EPA supplements the IMERC data with publicly available information on additional mercury-containing products.  Information on non-mercury alternatives is gathered from a variety of public sources, including industry associations, non-governmental organizations, numerous Web sites and published reports.  The database was developed in 2008, and will be updated annually. 

Interstate Mercury Education & Reduction Clearinghouse (IMERC) Mercury-Added Products Database Exit EPA Disclaimer - The IMERC database is managed by the Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA).  It presents information on:

  1. the amount and purpose of mercury in specific products that are sold in eight IMERC-member states;
  2. the total amount of mercury in these products sold nationally in a given year; and
  3. the manufacturers of these products.
The information is submitted to IMERC by or on behalf of product manufacturers in compliance with laws in the eight states of Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Notification requirements have been in effect for products manufactured or distributed in these states beginning in January 2001. The information is updated every three years.   

U.S. FDA's Information on Mercury-Containing Medicines, Antibiotics and Vaccines – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides a list of mercury-containing drug and biologic products, including the types and percentages of mercury ingredients in each of these products. The list includes non-homeopathic human and veterinary drug products and human biological products. Homeopathic drug products are not included because of the low amounts of mercury present in the products. Additional information on thimerosal content for biological products can be found on their Thimerosal in Vaccines and Mercury in Plasma-Derived Products pages.

The Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx) Exit EPA Disclaimer - Links to information and resources about mercury in health care, dentistry, and thermometers (home, medical, and industrial use). This page provides resources for establishments providing health care including hospitals, dental offices, doctors' offices, and clinics.

Substance Flow Analysis of Mercury Intentionally Used in Products in the United States (PDF) (15 pp., 422K, about PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer - This article presents an effort to use substance flow analysis to develop improved estimates of the environmental releases caused by mercury-containing products and to provide policy makers with a better understanding of opportunities for reducing releases of mercury caused by products. Written in part by EPA staff, the article was published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, Vol. 11, Issue 3, on pages 61-75. [Note: link does not go directly to PDF; PDF available only to registered users, or access may be purchased.]

Top of page

Reducing Use of Mercury-Containing Products

Product Stewardship - This page has information about the numerous stewardship efforts that have been initiated by government, industry, and non-governmental organizations, targeting a variety of mercury-containing products. There is a need to decrease the use of mercury in household and commercial products, and to prevent the mercury in existing products from entering the waste stream. When solid waste is burned in an incinerator, the mercury that is present can be released to the atmosphere and present a hazard to human health.

State Legislation and Regulations - Many states have enacted legislation and written regulations with the goal of reducing mercury emissions to air, land, and water. Links to state legislation, regulations, and resolutions; and county/city ordinances are listed below, sorted by state.

NEWMOA's Mercury Reductions Programs Database Exit EPA Disclaimer - This database provides information about mercury reduction programs across the nation. You can also add information about a program that your organization has created to reduce mercury.

Great Lakes Mercury in Products Phase-Down Strategy (PDF) (June 2008) (75 pp., 426K, about PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer – Great Lakes states and tribes along with EPA developed this basin-wide Strategy to phase out the use of mercury-containing products and provide for mercury waste management.  The Strategy includes recommendations for action by the Great Lakes states, focusing on specific products and sectors, as well as for actions cutting across multiple products and sectors.  The Strategy was developed under the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration (GLRC), a multi-stakeholder process led by federal agencies, Great Lakes governors, Great Lakes mayors, Great Lakes tribes, and members of the Great Lakes states Congressional delegation.   

Mercury Product Labeling (PDF) (March 2006) (24 pp., 625K, about PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer – QSC report intended to stimulate discussion about the value and effectiveness of labeling mercury-added products as an approach for phasing out nonessential uses of mercury. The document describes activities in nine states and provides information about the value and effectiveness of state programs.

Mercury-Added Product White Paper (PDF) (November 2006) (19 pp., 113K, about PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer– QSC paper identifies five mercury containing products where State and Federal agencies could reduce mercury use through voluntary and regulatory mechanisms.

The Product Stewardship Institute is working on a mercury thermostat project Exit EPA Disclaimer and a fluorescent lighting project. Exit EPA Disclaimer In the thermostat project, PSI is working with stakeholders to educate heating and cooling contractors and homeowners about the need to responsibly manage mercury thermostats, expand the availability of current recycling locations, provide incentives that motivate contractors and homeowners to recycle, and increase the replacement rate of mercury thermostats with non-mercury alternatives. In the lighting project, PSI is convening a national dialogue for the negotiation of strategies to address key issues, and conducting a pilot project to collect fluorescent lamps and thermostats from retail locations.

Top of page

Recycling or Disposing of Mercury-Containing Products

Safe Management of Mercury-Containing Products - This table describes how mercury is used in a host of consumer products; the potential for mercury spills while using these products; and recommended management practices for disposing of these products at the end of their useful lives. The table includes information on some older mercury-containing products, such as certain latex interior and exterior paints, that are no longer sold but still exist and need to be disposed of.

Federal regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) include specific requirements for handling and disposing of mercury-containing equipment under the universal waste rule.

NEWMOA's Mercury Legacy Products Exit EPA Disclaimer - A "legacy product" is a mercury-added product that is no longer sold as a new product in the U.S., but may still be in use, may be resold as a used or antique product, or may simply be stored in homes or businesses. These products may be subject to waste disposal restrictions because of their mercury content. Some states also restrict the re-sale of these products. This website provides information about the past and current uses of mercury-added legacy products, including photographs, types of situations in which the products were typically used, the location of mercury in the product, and information on their proper handling, removal, and disposal.

Top of page

Non-Mercury Alternative Products

Mercury leaks or spills can be prevented through the safe management and recycling of products at the end of their useful lives. However the optimal way of preventing exposure to elemental mercury is to reduce the use of mercury-containing products by using alternatives whenever possible. In most cases, non-mercury alternatives exist for mercury-containing products.

EPA's Database on Mercury-Containing Products and Alternatives - This searchable database contains publicly available information on consumer and commercial products that contain mercury,  plus information on non-mercury alternatives.  This is a Windows database designed to be downloaded to operate on an individual computer.  Information on non-mercury alternatives is gathered from a variety of public sources, including industry associations, non-governmental organizations, numerous Web sites and published reports.  The database was developed in 2008, and will be updated annually.

National Wildlife Federation (NWF), 2002 report: Mercury Products Guide: The Hidden Dangers of Mercury (PDF) (51 pp, 948K, about PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer

Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, 2003 report: An Investigation of Alternatives to Mercury Containing Products (PDF) (85 pp, 403K, about PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer

Lowell Center for Sustainable Production: An Investigation of Alternatives to Miniature Batteries Containing Mercury (PDF) (72 pp, 1.1MB, about PDF). Exit EPA Disclaimer

Sustainablehospitals.org Exit EPA Disclaimer – This web site offers information on mercury-free alternative products and dental mercury removal systems.

Top of page

Local Navigation

Jump to main content.