Sustainable Hospitals

Mercury in Gauges and Switches
Many pieces of hospital, laboratory, and industrial equipment utilize mercury-containing switches and gauges. For example, mercury components may be found in many boilers, ovens, and Coulter Counters. When a new piece of equipment is ordered, this is the time to specify that it contain only mercury free components. More commonly, hospitals may be faced with existing equipment that contain fully functional mercury components. What should one do about these? In some cases, it may be appropriate to replace the mercury device immediately. One hospital experienced a mercury leak in a food warming tray at a patient's bedside. This situation would warrant immediate retrofitting of all trays with non-mercury switches. In other cases, monitoring and and managing the mercury device may be reasonable. Another hospital reported that their boiler gauge control contains 23 pounds of mercury, and it appears that a comparable non-mercury device is not available. The only way to eliminate mercury here would be to replace the entire boiler system, even though nothing is malfunctioning. This is a case where education, labeling, and monitoring may be a viable alternative until a replacement becomes available or until new equipment is procured. Here are some suggestions for interim management of mercury containing equipment:
  1. Contact the vendor or service representative to determine if mercury-free alternatives exist.
  2. Clearly label the device as one containing mercury and requiring special care and handling.
  3. Train and advise maintenance staff to routinely monitor for leakage and to respond appropriately if a leak occurs
  4. Develop a maintenance protocol for when the article needs to be re-calibrated, handled or replaced.
  5. When the device needs replacement due to age or efficiency, replace it with a non-mercury alternative.
For more information on mercury and alternatives contact the SHP at or 978-934-3386. The SHP thanks Todd Dresser of the Burlington, Massachusetts Board of Health for his contributions to this fact sheet.

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