Mercury Disposal on Campus

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that can be present in soil, air and water.  Higher levels of mercury in the environment can be attributed to pollution caused by human activities, including fossil fuel combustion, manufacturing, and small-scale gold mining.  Mercury is toxic to humans and wildlife.  When products that contain mercury are broken, thrown in the trash or poured down drains, it pollutes the environment. You can be exposed to mercury by directly handling it or by breathing its vapors, through dental amalgams or other medical treatments or by eating mercury-contaminated food.

Health effects

Depending on the type and amount, exposure to mercury can damage a person's nervous system, brain, kidneys, liver, and immune system.  Methylmercury is extremely poisonous and can damage the brain, even at low levels. People may be exposed to methylmercury by eating contaminated fish.  Elemental mercury, the silvery liquid found in some thermometers and switches, is most dangerous when inhaled and needs to be handled with care.

Dietary mercury from fish and shellfish is the dominant source of mercury exposure in the general population. For most adults, the risk from methylmercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern.  Children are most sensitive to this type of exposure, which can harm developing brains and nervous systems. People who are pregnant, can become pregnant or are breastfeeding should be particularly careful about mercury. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MA DPH) monitors conditions in waterways and postsfish consumption advisories.  The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also provides Advice about Eating Fish.   

Learn what items contain mercury

Mercury is found in many common products, including button batteries, thermometers, thermostats, fluorescent bulbs, circuit boards, switches, cosmetics, topical disinfectants, contact lens solutions, older medications, nasal sprays, detergents and pre-1990’s pesticides.  

Recycling and Disposal 

Never put mercury-containing items in the trash or pour down drains. The College recycles or safely disposes of mercury-containing batteries, bulbs and other equipment generated on campus. Learn how by visiting the Waste Reduction, Recycling and Composting page.   If you have questions about disposing of mercury products at the College, please write to

Please do not bring batteries or any other mercury-containing products from your home to campus.  Check with your local city or town to find out how to safely recycle or dispose of your materials.  You can also check Earth911 and other resources.

Mercury Spill Clean-up

First, open windows to ventilate the area. Do not touch the mercury - remove all jewelry from your hands (mercury bonds with most metals) and put on gloves.  Keep everyone out of the area to avoid spreading the contamination. If spilled in an oven or other heated device, evacuate and call Public Safety and Service: 413-538-2304. 

Contain the spill - Spilled mercury can spread quickly. Move furniture and other objects away from the spill and prevent mercury from flowing into drains, cracks or crevices.

Never vacuum or sweep the spill - Vacuuming or sweeping up a mercury spill will spread the mercury throughout the room and contaminate your vacuum or broom.

Clean-up the spill - For small amounts, on a hard surface, push the beads together with a stiff piece of paper or cardboard. Lift the beads with the cardboard and place into a plastic container. Pick up any remaining mercury with duct or packing tape or an eye dropper and place in the container along with the pieces of the broken item, the cardboard and gloves. Close the container tightly. 

For assistance, contact EH&S through the Facilities Management main office: 413-538-2012.  Immediately report all emergencies to Public Safety and Service:  413-538-2304.

Buy responsibly and be aware

Always check product labels and buy mercury-free alternatives whenever they are available.    Be aware of fish consumption advisories.  For questions about mercury on campus, write to