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NEWS
Mercury Thermometer Calibration Program Reaches Cessation
March 1, 2011

Beginning March 1st, 2011, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will no longer provide calibration services for mercury thermometers. The cessation of the mercury thermometer calibration program marks the end of an era at NIST, which has provided the service since the doors opened in 1901. The closing of the program is part of a larger effort, in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a number of professional standards organizations and environmental and industry groups, to phase out the use of mercury thermometers altogether.


NIST researcher Dawn Cross calibrates a mercury thermometer using the icepoint of water as a reference. NIST will cease to offer this service on March 1, 2011, in order to support efforts to reduce the amount of mercury in the environment. Photo courtesy of NIST.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin. Elemental mercury is found in thermometers and used in a number of industrial processes such as gold mining. Once released into the environment, mercury makes its way into streams, rivers, and finally the ocean. The mercury is absorbed by sea life and accumulates in the larger fish that humans like to eat. This is the main source of mercury poisoning in humans today.

While many industries follow ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards that stipulate the use of mercury thermometers, these standards have fallen behind the states, many of which have outlawed the sale and transport of mercury thermometers. Presently about 300 of the approximately 700 standards have been amended to allow for the use of both mercury-free liquid-in-glass and digital thermometers. According to NIST researcher Dawn Cross, each of these ASTM standards is reviewed on a rolling basis. She estimates that all the standards will have been amended to include detailed procedures for making the switch to mercury thermometer alternatives within three years.

Learn more about the NIST/EPA program to phase out mercury thermometers used in industrial and laboratory settings at www.epa.gov/hg/thermometer.htm. NIST researcher Dawn Cross calibrates a mercury thermometer using the icepoint of water as a reference. Photo courtesy of NIST.


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