MARQUETTE — The Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority has organized a Mercury Thermometer Exchange Program to provide county residents with options for proper disposal of items containing mercury and other hazardous materials.
“Folks may have these types of devices still hanging around, and what we want to do is provide an option if you have something or a thermometer that contains mercury, you can bring that into our offices here at the landfill and we’ll exchange that mercury device for a digital thermometer, and in turn we’ll dispose of that mercury properly,” said Brad Austin, MCSWMA director of operations.
The program is an effort by the authority to educate residents on the proper disposal of hazardous materials and manage the quality of the landfill’s leachate, or the water that drains through the waste mass. The MCSWMA manages its own leachate and the water is treated on site.
“The quality of leachate is something that we’re very passionate about,” Austin said. “We keep tabs on it, we want to ensure that people understand that when you throw things away or you flush things down the toilet, these are things that are being dealt with … in the landfill, but even a step further, the wastewater treatment plants who have to deal with wastewater and deal with some of these constituents that are within the water,” Austin said.
The two most common mercury-containing materials the authority sees brought in are thermometers and loose elemental mercury, he added.
“You hear people talk about this material, when they were kids they had it in their hands and they were playing with it,” Austin said. “Those are materials that we do see at the residential level and those are materials that certainly we want to capture and get out of the waste stream.”
The MCSWMA website states that mercury is a neurotoxicant and outbreaks of methyl-mercury poisonings have shown that ingestion poses a health risk to adults, children and developing fetuses. Eating fish containing methyl-mercury is the most common way people are exposed to mercury; however, breaking products that contain elemental mercury and using compounds that contain the substance also pose risks, it states.
“I think mercury, there are some health concerns with that in particular in children,” Austin said. “Mercury vapors are dangerous and so I think it’s two parts: it’s one, the human health hazard, and then environmentally keeping this material out of our lakes and our streams is important.”
The MCSWMA website notes clothing irons, non-electric thermostats, automatic headlamps that have a blue tint when lit, certain paints and batteries, pilot light sensors in some appliances as possible mercury-containing items found in homes.
Many other materials can affect the landfill leachate and should be properly disposed of, Austin added.
“Anything like mercury, or pesticides, or pharmaceuticals or other hazardous materials like waste oil or oil-based paints, we really try to make efforts to provide proper disposal options for residents, so we keep those materials out of the landfill,” he said.
If you are unsure of how to properly dispose of a material in your home, call the MCSWMA directly at 906-249-4125. As the authority moves toward the switch to single-stream recycling, it will develop a website focused on the Recycle 906 campaign that aims to educate residents on proper recycling habits and keeping hazardous materials out of the landfill.
Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.