Feb. 2-14, 2002
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Hg thermometers on the way out
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Hg thermometers on the way out

By Matt Kelly

Adam Peters is turning up the heat on mercury thermometers at the University. Peters, manager of U.Va.’s hazardous materials program, wants to replace mercury thermometers with safer, more environmentally friendly ones.

“Mercury is very toxic, and when you break [a mercury thermometer] it is released into the environment,” Peters said. “The vapor is toxic to breathe.”

Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature and vaporizes. An unattended spill can emit vapors for years.

“It evaporates slowly. Its fumes are invisible and odorless,” he said. “It attacks the central nervous system, causing emotional disturbances and organ damage.”
Peters has already replaced thermometers in a few undergraduate chemistry labs and he wants to get the word out to other lab managers.

He estimates that there are thousands of mercury thermometers around the University, in undergraduate labs, research departments, storage rooms and students’ pockets.

Mercury thermometers have long been the standard of accuracy, and that makes some lab managers reluctant to change. However, Peters said his replacement thermometers contain “non-hazardous, biodegradable liquid with dye” and are just as accurate as the mercury ones. The new thermometers cost about $8 each, similar to the cost of a mercury thermometer.


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