TRC Blog

A Simple Question to Help Keep Mercury out of the Environment

Posted Oct 21, 2014

Are you aware that many thermostats manufactured prior to 2006 contain mercury? Are you aware that a mercury thermostat contains at least 1,000 times more mercury than today’s standard compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL)?  Are you aware that mercury thermostats are likely the largest remaining reservoir of mercury in homes today, and thousands end up in the trash each year?   

Similar to a CFL bulb, the mercury in a thermostat is safely contained within the device when in use.  However, it becomes an issue when the thermostat is replaced and the old one becomes waste.  In its various forms, mercury can be harmful to human health and the environment.  When mercury from thermostats or light bulbs ends up in the trash it could wind up in landfills and waste incinerators. From there it may enter our rivers, lakes and streams, where it converts into an even more toxic form that enters the food chain.

While thermostats are not a significant source of mercury pollution, they should be an easy one to control.

Many states prohibit the disposal of mercury thermostats in the trash. And many states go further to require contractors to recycle every mercury thermostat they remove from service. However, recycling data indicates that some contractors or their employees continue to disregard the law and thermostats continue to be thrown into the trash. This is despite the fact that TRC offers a free and universally accessible recycling program for mercury thermostats available to contractors.

In many parts of the country, fall’s arrival means you are likely to schedule your annual system maintenance check. When the technician comes to your home, do the environment a favor and ask him what his company’s policy is regarding the disposal of mercury thermostats and how they monitor compliance.  Hopefully you will like the answer. But if you don’t, let the technician know you expect your contractor to properly dispose of any thermostats they remove.

While one inquiry from a customer may seem insignificant, the more contractors hear from their customers that this is an issue they care about, the better. In a highly competitive industry that values repeat and referral business like heating and cooling contractors, you can make a real difference.  So, ask the question and ensure your heating contractor is doing the right thing for the environment.