Mercury in Thermostats

MERCURY THERMOSTAT COLLECTION ACT

Beginning July 1, 2013, the Mercury Thermostat Collection and Performance Requirement Regulations established additional requirements for mercury thermostat manufacturers, and collectors.  These regulations require annual performance goals for the collection of mercury-containing thermostats and established a methodology for calculating the number of such thermostats that become waste annually. The regulations also establish identification requirements for persons delivering thermostats to collection centers.  Then annual reporting requirements for thermostat manufacturers have been updated since the legislation was adopted in 2008.  For additional information, contact thermostats@dtsc.ca.gov or DTSC’s Regulatory Assistance Officers at 800 – 72- TOXIC (800-728-6942).

Pursuant to the Mercury Thermostat Collection Act of 2008, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) recently adopted regulations entitled Mercury Thermostat Collection and Performance Requirements. The regulations, which were approved by the Office of Administrative law (OAL) on May 15, 2013 (OAL File No.2013-0415-02 S), have been filed with the Secretary of State and will take effect on July 1, 2013. They establish annual performance goals for the collection of mercury-containing thermostats and a methodology for calculating the number of such thermostats that become waste annually. The regulations also establish identification requirements for persons delivering thermostats to collection centers and annual reporting requirements for thermostat manufacturers.

Recycling Mercury-containing Thermostats: Instructional Video

View Script

MILESTONES AND REQUIREMENTS/OUTREACH DOCUMENT 

The Milestones document reflects the planned schedule for implementing the Mercury Thermostat Collection Act of 2008. The Requirements and Outreach document outlines the requirements of the law by group and details DTSC's efforts to disseminate the information.

Frequently Asked Questions

 

View all answers

Q. Where do I take my out-of-service mercury-containing thermostat?
A.

If you are a household, this link should direct you to the nearest household hazardous waste collection location. DTSC suggests you verify that the facility accepts mercury thermostats before you take them to the facility.

A listing of household hazardous waste collection facilities is also available and is sorted by city. The Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC) also maintains a list of thermostat collection points. Please refer to the Universal Waste Regulations for information on how to properly manage your unwanted mercury thermostats.  TRC is a non-profit corporation voluntarily founded by thermostat manufacturers for the purpose of collecting and properly disposing of mercury-containing thermostats.

Q. What is a mercury-containing thermostat, and how does it work?
A.

Many thermostats sold prior to 2006 contain a mercury switch, which consists of a glass tube with mercury inside. Mercury's unique characteristics make it extremely effective as a switch in a thermostat. Because of its excellent conductivity and high surface tension, the mercury rolls freely inside the glass tube of a mercury switch. As it moves within the switch, the mercury opens and closes an electrical circuit, which turns on and off a furnace or air conditioner to maintain a desired room temperature.

Q. What do you do with loose bulbs (glass vials/switches containing mercury) that have been removed from the thermostat?
A.

Try to keep the cover attached to the thermostat to prevent accidental breakage and the release of mercury during storage or transport.  If a collection location or HVAC contractor has loose bulbs, the collector can contact TRC at trc@thermostat-recycle.org and TRC should assist the collector in the proper disposal of the bulbs.  Generally TRC only accepts whole mercury-switch thermostats with the cover attached due to the potential for breakage in transport to the recycling facility.

Q. I still have questions. Whom should I contact?
A.

You may contact the Department of Toxic Substances Control for answers to your questions on the thermostat collection law and on the Universal Waste Regulations for handling thermostats at thermostats@dtsc.ca.gov or at (800) 72-TOXIC ([800] 728-6942).

Q. I have a mercury-containing thermostat in my home. Is it safe for me and my family?
A.

In normal use, mercury-containing thermostats are safe; the consumer is not exposed to the mercury, which is sealed inside a glass bulb. Mercury thermostats were designed with a sturdy casing to hold and protect the sealed glass bulb inside. Nevertheless, it's prudent to use mercury thermostats with care.

Q. How do I recycle my out-of-service mercury-containing thermostat?
A.

California law bans the disposal of mercury-containing thermostats in municipal trash. Be sure your technician or contractor properly removes and manages your thermostats in accordance with California’s Universal Waste Regulations.

The intact thermostat, including the cover, should be taken to the nearest collection center.  The thermostat casing protects the mercury switch during transportation.  Thermostat manufacturers have provided collection bins to approximately 600 household hazardous waste facilities and wholesalers who sell new (non-mercury) thermostats and HVAC equipment.

Q. Do I have to replace my mercury thermostat with a non-mercury one?
A.

California law has prohibited the sale of mercury thermostats since 2006, but there is no requirement that you replace your existing mercury thermostat. If you do decide to remove a mercury thermostat (e.g., you plan to replace it with an energy-efficient programmable model, you are upgrading your HVAC system, or you plan to demolish the building), you need to manage the unwanted mercury thermostat properly, in accordance with California’s Universal Waste Regulations.

Q. Do all thermostats contain mercury?
A.

No. There are several thermostat technologies that do not use mercury. These include electronic, snap-action, reed switch, and vapor-filled diaphragm thermostats. Since California’s ban on sale of mercury-added thermostats took effect in 2006, mercury thermostats have been supplanted by these mercury-free types.