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Mercury Thermometers

and Some of Their Other Uses

 
Temperature measurement and uses of mercury-in-glass thermometers play such a very large role in industry, commerce, science and engineering that the devices are almost taken for granted. The recent ban aginst sales of mercury thermometers in many states in the USA and countries around the world, although well-justified from a public health perspective, may have created a conundrum of huge proportions when it comes to uses beyond the familiar health, clinical and medical ones.

Similar problems may also be encountered in the uses of mercury-bearing measuring devices of other kinds, such as barometers, hygrometers and more.

The ban on mercury thermometers does extend, in most cases to many other types of measuremnt devices. Here, we will concentrate on mercury-in-glass thermometers.

Not only are mercury thermometers common, they are also often "written into" some of their uses by decree of a government or industry standard to insure that the required precision, repeatability, traceability and time response important to that use are maintained. After all, repeatability and uniformity of methodology, including use of the same type of measurement device, is one of the keys to performing temperature measurements that can be compared to previous ones.

What do the bans on sales of mercury thermometers imply in such cases?

We took a look at some of the standards that currently exist to see if there was a clear indication of the size of the issue. In the USA, the American National Standanrds Institute, ANSI, gathers under its wing many standards written by other groups and adopts them as "National Standards". That seems like a good place to start a search.

In conducting a search of the ANSI Online Store for Standards several additional types of standards, generated by other societies were found. These included many domestic and international standards that US manufactruers follow to comply with international trade requirements. There are also standards listed from specific countries like Germany and Japan that were not included, because they were too country-specific. They may need to be considered, but are not included here.

The single largest number of domestic standards found were by the American Society for Standards and Materials, ASTM who have more than 1400 individual specifications, Test methods and related standards that involve temperature. The second highest group of standars are among the standards published by The International Standards Organization, ISO. the ANSI search found almost 700. The International Electrotechnical Commission has another 225 seperate standards.

The initial search results are summarized in the table below. Clearly not all standards found will call for mercury thermometers, but it is very likely that many will, since many test methods call for very specific reference temperatures down to and including specific types of mercury thermometers, for instance in the calibration of the apparatus used to perfom a specific test.

The ASTM-type mercury thermometer series, for example, are used widely in industry, science and commerce. They are available from numerous suppliers around the world and have been around for more than 50 years. The list of different models is very extensive.

Standards Search
Organization Standards Involving Temperature
ANSI/AAMI 1
ANSI/ASHRAE 8
ANSI/EIA 1
ANSI/IESNA 1
ANSI/IPC/JEDC 1
ANSI/ISA 3
ANSI/MSS 1
ANSI/PIMA 2
ANSI/SCTE 2
ANSI/WSC 1
ASAE 2
ASHRAE 2
ASTM 1464
ASME 1
IEC 225
IEEE 9
IESNA 6
ISA 2
ISO 676
MSS 2
NACE 9
NFPA 5
NSF 2
SAE 1
SCTE 1
T 11
TIP 31
TOTAL
2642

Looking at the list above, it is clear that the ASTM Standards represent the single largest groups. A look at the ASTM Standard E1, on the special types of mercury-in-glass thermometers used by science, government and commerce shows a listing of some of their uses. It cuts across many industries and technologies, as can be appreciated by the list of topics ijn the table below, culled from the standard, that relate to the uses of specific ASTM thermometer models.

ASTM Thermometer Uses: ASTM Std E1
Aviation fuel freezing point
Bomb calorimeter
Petrolatum melting point
Brookfield Viscosity
Butadiene boiling point range
Cleveland open flash
Cloud and pour
Cloud and pour, low
Reid vapor pressure
Congealing point
Saybolt viscosity
Coolant (antifreeze) freezing point
Density wide range
Enclosed scale
Engler viscosity
Fuel rating
Softening point (bitumen) wide-range
Solidification point
Gas calorimeter, inlet
Gas calorimeter, outlet
Gravity
High aniline point
High distillation
High Pensky
Martens
High softening point
Kinematic viscosity
Solidification point of benzene
Solvents distillation
Stability test of soluble nitrocellulose
Stormer viscosity
Tag closed tester, low range
Tag closed tester, high range
Tank
Loss on heat
Low aniline point
Low cloud and pour
Low distillation
Low Pensky Martens
Tar acids distillation
Titer test Low softening point
Medium aniline point
Turpentine distillation
Oil in wax
Vegetable oil flash
Oxidation stability
Wax melting point
Weathering test

The ASTM mercury-in-glass thermometer standard E1 is the single most cited standard among all the other ASTM standards, with more than 800 present standards dealing with all sorts of industry and government temperature measurements, many of them critical to commerce and science.

This is a temperature measurement conundrum that won't go away by edict!

Be sure to come back and see the additional information soon.


Thank you for visiting.


 

Information & Special Areas
Some information on Medical and Clinical Thermometers May be found at the links below.

More Information:

There are numerous resources on the Web relating to State and Regional programs among the US states to deal with the concerns over sales and continued uses of mercury-in-glass thermometers. We will be adding to the list of reference websites above as we locate more informative site.

Some Opinion:

One thing is clear, outright banning of mercury-in-glass thermometers has obviously been started before all the ramifications, expecially ones that could impose work hardships on even Federal, but also State, Agencies as well as industrial and scientific organizations. It would seem we have some rather short-sighted legislators who mean well, but are unable to think quite as well. They have then left the "cleaning up" of the "fine points" to state agency workers who don't need any additional work stress.

While there may be some leeway within the various state rules and regs to allow the sales of some critical mercury-in-glass thermometers, the "out" for some states seems to be the legal distinction between sales and uses of such devices. The logic is a functional one, but with a serious flaw. Where do replacement use devices come from, if all the states ban sales of them?

It would be really interesting to know how various European Countries and the EU, in general, is handling this issue.

If you have serious inputs or feedback please send an email to info@temperatures.com with your comments.

 

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