Mercury Barometers & Dangerous Antiques – Unsafe or Over Legislated?

A. Maspoli & Co. signed George III inlaid mahogany barometer

A. Maspoli & Co. signed George III inlaid mahogany barometer

Based on a CDC report on the dangers of mercury, dealers of antique weather devices face an uncertain future.

No one would argue that mercury doesn’t belong in food or children’s playthings, but dealers of antique barometers, thermometers, and even clocks think that legislation prohibiting the sale of objects containing mercury may be an overreaction, likened to cracking a nut with a sledgehammer. Still legislation exists in many states banning the sale of some (but not all) devices containing mercury. Those states include Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, Illinois, Maryland, and California. The problem is that the legislation is often either unclear or worse, contradictory. Oregon, Maryland and Michigan have laws controlling mercury thermometers but not barometers. Since sometimes these two items are found together, it’s unclear whether it is permissible to sell them or not.

Rhode Island has attempted to quantify legislation, and bans the sale of mercury containing items based on the amount contained. A few states have regulations banning items they define as “mercury added products”. This, according to one agency is any formulated or fabricated product that contains mercury, a mercury compound or a component containing mercury. Illinois law states that after July of 2004, no mercury added novelty products may be offered for sale. It is unclear whether a barometer would be considered a novelty item, but what is clear is that the ambiguity of language as well as the variety of legislation from state to state makes it a risky business to deal in antiques containing mercury, particularly on the internet.

-By p4A Contributing Editor Susan Cramer.