University of Calgary

Mercury thermometers replaced

Safety first in mercury thermometer project

By Amyna Mamdani

A joint initiative between Environmental Health and Safety and the University of Calgary’s Department of Chemistry is making labs safer for students, lab technicians, instructors and faculty.

The project to replace mercury thermometers in chemistry labs began in December 2006 as a kick-off to a larger, campus-wide initiative with the cooperation of chemistry head Dr. Brian Keay and his team of lab technicians.

“Dr. Keay has played a crucial role in this project and I hope other departments have the same great attitude,” says Claudette Fedoruk, occupational health and safety consultant from Environmental Health and Safety.

Doris Jo, a lab technician for first-year chemistry labs, says the breaking of mercury thermometers is a common accident in undergrad labs. She estimates that about 20 to 30 thermometers are broken every year. Since mercury is toxic, eliminating mercury-filled thermometers removes the environmental and health threats posed by breakage.
 
“We have replaced mercury thermometers with digital, alcohol, ethanol or other environmentally safe solutions,” says Keay.
 
The biggest hurdle in implementing the program was the high cost, since environmentally safe thermometers are significantly more expensive than mercury-filled ones. By the end of May, cost-sharing between Environmental Health and Safety and the Department of Chemistry will have resulted in the replacement of more than 1,000 thermometers affecting about 2,700 chemistry students. The old thermometers will be safely disposed of through regular hazardous waste procedures.

Environmental Health and Safety invites other departments to replace mercury-filled thermometers in their labs on a voluntary basis. To do so, contact Environmental Health and Safety at ucsafety@ucalgary.ca or check out their website at http://www.ucalgary.ca/UofC/departments/RISK/safety/.