Amounts of Mercury in Hospital Equipment

Just how much mercury is there in hospital equipment? Many hospitals ask this question in order to prioritize mercury reduction efforts and to understand the potential for a mercury release if there is a spill.

An estimate of mercury content in medical devices and facility equipment is shown in the following tables. Note that these are estimates and that variations may exist by manufacturer or even model.

Table 1. Mercury in Medical Devices
Collated by Bill Ravanesi of Health Care Without Harm (HCWH)
Medical Device Approximate amount of Hg
Consumer fever thermometers 0.5 g - 1.5 g
Hospital laboratory thermometers 3 g - 4 g
Wall blood pressure units and floor portable units 110 - 200 g
Maloney or Hurst bougies (esophageal dilators)1, 2 A tube may contain as much as
3 pounds (1361 g) of mercury
Cantor tubes1 54 g - 136 g
Miller Abbott tubes1 136 g
Dennis tubes1 136 g
Foley catheter1 68 g
  1. This information was taken from the Medical Device Reporting System (MDR) of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). MDRs are case reports of life-threatening medical device failures.
  2. Maloney and Hurst bougies are approximately 30 inches long and have a variety of diameters (0.2-0.8 inches). They are commonly found in operating rooms, gastrointestinal labs, and endoscopy departments.
Table 2. Mercury in Building Products
Collated by Todd Dresser of the Burlington, Massachusetts, Board of Health
Building Product Approximate amount of Hg
Fluorescent light bulbs 10 - 50 mg per tube, depending
on size and model
High intensity discharge (HID) lamps 10 - 250 mg
Thermostats 3 grams per switch (Some units
have as many as 6 switches)
Mercury switches, including: mechanical/tilt switches,
reed switches, float switches
3.5 grams - 8 pounds per switch
Flow meters Often 11 pounds or more
Flame sensors 3 g
Gas regulators and meters Older gas meters contain
approximately 2 g - 4 g of mercury
Boiler guage controls Some boilers contain 23 pounds -
75 pounds
of mercury

For more information about mercury, visit the following websites:
The Sustainable Hospitals Project (SHP) website provides information on alternatives to mercury containing products. You may also contact the SHP at 978-934-3386 or by email at

The Burlington (Massachusetts) Board of Health website contains mercury educational materials and identification guides, as well as case studies describing mercury recovery efforts targeting local businesses, residents, and schools.
Health Care Without Harm works with the health care industry in pollution prevention initiatives, including the phase-out of mercury-containing products. HCWH's online mercury resources include the brochures "Mercury Thermometers and Your Family's Health" and "How to Plan and Hold a Mercury Thermometer Exchange" for hospitals, schools or community.

The Sustainable Hospitals Project thanks Bill Ravanesi (HCWH) and Todd Dresser (Burlington, Massachusetts, Board of Health) for their contributions to this fact sheet.