Mercury Pollution

Mercury (Hg) is a naturally occurring element that is toxic to humans and other living things. Mercury can enter water from polluted runoff and from precipitation containing mercury (atmospheric deposition). Humans can be exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish, absorbing it through the skin, or inhaling it from the atmosphere. Mercury has been identified as one of the toxic substances of concern in the Opportunities for Action, the management plan for Lake Champlain.

Mercury Pollution Prevention

Efforts to reduce mercury pollution are on-going at the national, state/provincial, and regional levels.  Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have regulations in place to reduce mercury emissions from factories and other sources that emit mercury into the air. State and provincial governments also have implemented programs to reduce local sources of mercury pollution, such as thermometer collection programs. At the regional level, partners are making similar efforts in the Lake Champlain Basin to prevent mercury from contaminating our lakes and rivers and to protect human health. Recent and on-going activities include:

  • The State of Vermont has initiated a mercury reduction campaign which includes a mercury labeling law, urging pharmacies to voluntarily stop selling mercury thermometers and helping schools remove and reduce mercury hazards.
  • The states of New York and Vermont and the province of Québec have issued fish advisories to warn anglers about the dangers of eating mercury-contaminated fish.
  • Farmers and maple sugar makers continue to exchange mercury manometers and thermometers for digital devices or alcohol-based thermometers through programs by the VT Agency of Agriculture, Farms and Markets and UVM Extension that were funded in part by the LCBP.
  • The National Wildlife Federation initiated an LCBP-funded program with dentists in the Basin to properly dispose of mercury. The State of Vermont now has guidelines for dental offices.
  • Canadian Federal Mercury Reduction information:
  • U.S. Federal Mercury Reduction information:

Household Products Potentially Containing Mercury

  • Batteries
    What: Mercuric oxide and pre-1996 alkaline batteries
    Alternatives: Look for labeling that says mercury reduced or eliminated. Avoid mercury zinc button batteries
  • Fluorescent light bulbs
    What: Compact bulbs and tubes
    Alternatives: Buy low-mercury fluorescent light bulbs or Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs)
  • Gauges
    What: Including barometers, manometers, blood pressure, and vacuum gauges with a silver-colored liquid
    Alternatives: Alternatives include digital and needle or bourdon gauges
  • Mercury vapor lights
    What: High intensity discharge (HID), metal halide, and high pressure sodium and neon bulbs
    Alternatives: Alternatives are not available, use low-mercury brands if available
  • Paint
    What: Pre-1990 latex and some oil-based paint (check the label)
    Alternatives: Buy new latex paints and avoid oil-based paints containing mercury
  • Thimerosal and Merbromim
    What: In some antibacterial products such as mercurochrome
    Alternatives: Read labels on medicines, ointments and creams
  • Pilot light sensors
    What: Some gas appliances such as stoves, ovens, clothes dryers, water heaters, furnaces, and space heaters
    Alternatives: Newer models have electronic sensors
  • Switches and relays
    What: Some freezer chests and clothes irons, pre-1972 washers, sump and bilge pumps, electric space heaters, silent light switches, farm equipment and vehicles
    Alternatives: Ball-type switches becoming more available in car hoods and trunks
  • Thermometers
    What: Those that contain a silver-colored liquid
    Alternatives: Use red-bulb (alcohol) or electronic digital thermometers instead
  • Thermostats
    What: Non-electric
    Alternatives: Switch to electronic models and snap switches, especially when remodeling
  • Vintage Toys
    What: Toy drawing screens and mercury maze games
    Alternatives: Electronic devices and other liquids are used in newer toys

(Adapted from a brochure produced by the Chittenden Solid Waste District.)

Disposal of Mercury and Other Hazardous Wastes

Products containing mercury and other hazardous waste products should always be taken to hazardous waste drop off centers or recycling centers where accepted. They should not be disposed of in household trash. Information about town and county recycling centers and hazardous waste centers can be found online.

For more information about where to dispose of mercury-containing products or devices, visit online resources available from New York, Vermont, and Québec:


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