Substitutes for Mercury in Lab

Although its use is declining, some of our laboratories still use elemental mercury metal. Two places mercury is commonly found are manometers and thermometers.
Mercury is quite toxic, volatile (it evaporates into the air where you can breathe it in), and can be difficult to clean up. University policy is that mercury should be eliminated from all possible applications.

Substitutes are available for almost all uses of mercury. For example, modern thermometers offer the same or better accuracy and precision as a mercury thermometer, using an alcohol-based fluid. A manometer can be traded out for a pressure transducer whose performance is probably superior to the old manometer. (Manometers really provide accuracies of only about 2%, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.)

If you have mercury in your lab, whether a vial of liquid metal, an old thermometer, or a manometer for pressure measurement, please contact Health, Safety & Environment at 410-516-8798 and ask for it to be removed. If you need assistance finding a suitable replacement instrument, please contact Dr. Dan Kuespert, Laboratory Safety Advocate, at [email protected] or 410-516-5525.