HARRISBURG (AP) -- Pennsylvania officials are asking residents to turn over their old mercury thermometers, saying there is a risk of contamination by having the silvery liquid around the house.
The state department of environmental protection has launched a program to collect as many mercury thermometers as possible statewide and replace them free with digital thermometers.
"There are several people I'm sure who aren't aware of how toxic their mercury thermometers are," DEP spokesman John Repetz said.
"Mercury is fun because it runs around when you try to pick it up, but there are health problems it can cause."
If mercury thermometers are broken, the vapors can be absorbed by the body.
In addition, burning and other inadequate disposal of the thermometers can release mercury into streams.
Long-term exposure can cause brain damage in children. Mercury-contaminated fish can cause fetal damage if eaten by pregnant women.
Once in the air, mercury can fall to the ground with rain and snow, landing on soil or in bodies of water, causing contamination.
Once present in water, mercury accumulates in the tissue of fish and other organisms and may reach the dinner table.
Many high schools already have stopped storing mercury in their chemistry labs.