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Why you shouldn't just throw away that old thermometer

Ellen Abbott
An old thermomstat that contains mercury

The Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency wants your old thermometers or thermostats. It’s an attempt to get mercury out of the waste stream.

If you look at an old thermometer or thermostat hanging around the house and see a ball of silver mercury in it, don’t throw it in the trash. Exposure to even small amounts of mercury can cause health damage to humans and wildlife.

Kathleen Carroll of Covanta, which runs Onondaga County’s trash burner, says they do have pollution controls that minimize the danger of the items containing mercury in the waste stream.

“But I think it’s a better thing to have people recycle it on the front end. Just like when we get loads of garbage in, there’s a handful of cardboard boxes. Well, we’d rather people recycle those and put them in their blue bin,” said Carroll.

OCRRA spokeswoman Kristen Lawton says that’s why the agency is having a mercury drop-off on Monday in Onondaga County. She says there is always danger that the vials in these thermometers can break, releasing the potent neurotoxin. This way, the element is recycled.

“Essentially the thermometers and thermostats are sent to two different locations, where they extract the mercury from the element and they then use it for new mercury elements,” said Lawton.

Residents turning in a mercury-containing thermostat or thermometer at the Rock Cut Road drop-off site Monday also get a reward -- a $10 Lowe’s gift card, courtesy of Covanta.