Collect to compete- HVAC guys round up the mercury

Mercury is officially in retrograde- at least within the HVAC/HVACR industry. The Thermostat Recycling Corporation recently reported a 13% increase in collections of mercury-based thermometers over the past year. The TRC accredits a large portion of this effort to distributors and contractors in the HVAC industry, who are the main supporters of the Alexandria, Virginia-based non-profit.

Johnstone Supply, based in Portland, Oregon, is a major manufacturer and supplier of HVAC equipment, motors, pumps, bearings, and thermostats, among their many other products. They serve as a model for the reverse-distribution effort and have won the BMOP (Big Man on Planet) competition the last two years, awarded to the company that collects the most thermostats. This year’s competition is rounding up in the next two months- collections end on October 31st. The BMOP, which was started in 2012 as a collaboration between the TRC and Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), proves that competition stimulates production. The 2014 competition recovered over 250 pounds of mercury and promotes general awareness of the growing movement.

Founded in 1998 by three HVAC and home appliance giants- Honeywell, White-Rodgers, and General Electric- the TRC was started as an effort to begin the process of eliminating the use of mercury in medical products and everyday glass thermometers. It was a reversal process spawned from the growing knowledge of mercury’s harmful properties; scientists began to discover in the 1920s that its high toxicity led to health and environmental concerns.

Mercury vapor was first found to be dangerous when a Alfred Stock, a German chemist, traced the symptoms he and other scientists were having to mercury vapor in the laboratory.

At the end of February 2011, the National Institute of Standards and Technology  (NIST) stopped calibrating mercury thermometers, which they had been doing since the turn of the 20th century.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Environmental Protection Agency have actively recommended and assisted the phase-out process of mercury thermometers. This is both to reduce the hazard in the home, if the thermometers break, and to reduce the load on the environment from mercury getting into the air, water and soil.

Most thermometers now use either platinum, thermistors with a blend of metal oxides, or non-hazardous organic liquids for temperature measurement.

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