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Re: mercury thermometer hazards

Title: Re: mercury thermometer hazards
I agree with Kelly's assessment.  From one who has spend extensive time working in and with healthcare facilities, it is the spill potential that makes mercury-use/mercury-in-devices the real issue (though I've never heard of any analysis of the hazards in making mercury-containing devices, but I'll bet they are not benign).

The current Hg fever (pun intended) is it's ubiquitous-ness, ease of replacement and symbolic emblem for all things mercury-containing.  Fever thermometers remain the standard device for measuring temperature in the home.  People relate more to fever thermometers than sphygmomanometers - blood pressure cuffs - for example, and they are a big spill problem in healthcare settings (and not cheap to replace).  Fever thermometers are also used in veterinary offices (and yea, those critters don't stay still a lot and yea, those glass rectal thermometers break a lot).  I haven't seen basal glass-mercury thermometers in a long time, but I also can't say definitively they are no longer on the market.

A few direct and indirect clean up costs for a facility (think of these as approximate; the numbers are not recent and probably differ in different locations):

If someone has recent/more complete costs for the above – please post onto the listserv.  Costs are very persuasive information in trying to make changes.

Hg fever thermometer replacement is easy to do – I think that’s the real reason it has become the focus of a lot of public pressure.  Hopefully the same zest will become the focus of other easy-to-retire and replaceable, hazardous, commonly used, and publicly accepted devices.

Good questions asked by all on the listserv.  -Stephanie
      Stephanie C. Davis
1497 Hopkins Street #2D
 Berkeley CA  94702-1201
 510/527-8864 Pacific Time

WRR will be closed
       17 May - 4 June 2001


On 5/16/01 10:30 AM, "Kelly D. Moran" <kmoran@tdcenvironmental.com> wrote:

> Mercury thermometers aren't the most hazardous mercury in the world, but
> they aren't exactly benign either.  As long as the mercury is contained
> within the glass thermometer, it is no problem.  But, inevitably, that
> mercury will be released, when the thermometer breaks during use,
> storage, or disposal.
> Volume-wise, mercury releases from thermometers are probably not the
> largest environmental release of mercury.  Releases can occur to a
> variety of locations--the most common are probably the air (evaporation,
> vacuuming to clean up spills, incineration of mercury thermometers in
> the waste stream), sewer system (spill cleanup), and landfills.  The
> relative importance of the release depends on environmental medium and
> physical location (e.g., out west we don't have the eastern level of
> mercury releases from coal combustion, so the relative contributions are
> different).
> In my personal view, the most important releases are those from spills
> in homes and offices when mercury thermometers break.  Spills are rarely
> cleaned up properly, which means that long-term exposures to mercury
> vapors can occur after a spill.  If those exposures are to children,
> women who may become pregnant or who are pregnant, or other sensitive
> populations, they may be especially significant.
> To give you an idea of the amount of mercury in the air in a room after
> a mercury thermometer break, I can relate my personal experience with
> the breakage of one of 4 mercury-containing glass thermostat bulbs in an
> office where I used to work.  The amount of mercury released was about
> the same as the amount in a mercury fever thermometer.  The break was
> not recognized for a month or longer, as it didn't involve the portion
> of the thermostat that was in use during the winter.  When I discovered
> it, I measured the mercury level in the air in the office and found that
> it was almost at the OSHA permissible exposure level (PEL).  The PEL is
> set to protect healthy adults for workday exposures; it is does not
> provide a margin of safety for children or other sensitive populations,
> nor does it provide for exposures longer than the typical working week.  
> For those who want the "quick facts," I've attached a summary of the key
> health issues below.
> My main question is:  why would we take a toxic metal like mercury,
> encase it in a fragile shell like glass, and then stick it in children's
> mouths?  Safer, equally effective, and relatively inexpensive
> alternatives are available.  
> Kelly Moran
> TDC Environmental
> __________________________
> --   U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and
> U.S. EPA have issued a joint alert to the public regarding the hazards
> of mercury to the general public.
> --     Mercury can cause serious health problems. Children and fetuses
> are most vulnerable. Health effects can results from short-term or
> long-term exposure. Exposure can cause harm before symptoms arise. When
> symptoms do arise, health problems can include tremors, changes in
> vision or hearing, insomnia, weakness, difficulty with memory, headache,
> irritability, shyness and nervousness. In young children, exposure to
> metallic mercury can damage the central nervous system. Long-term
> mercury exposure can cause children to have trouble learning in school.
> --     Methylmercury compounds are the most toxic form of mercury, but
> other forms are also very toxic. In the environment, metallic mercury is
> converted to methylmercury by the action of certain types of bacteria.
> U.S. EPA considers metallic mercury to be a possible human carcinogen.
> Under Proposition 65, California has listed all forms of mercury as
> reproductive toxicants and methylmercury compounds as carcinogens.
> --     Exposure to metallic mercury occurs primarily from breathing
> contaminated air. Other forms of mercury (e.g., methyl mercury
> compounds)can be absorbed by eating food (like fish), drinking water,
> and from skin contact.
> --     Very small amounts of metallic mercury (e.g., a few drops) can
> raise air concentrations in a room to levels that may be harmful to
> health.
> --     Many serious mercury exposure incidents have occurred in homes
> and schools. These incidents relate to releases of metallic mercury and
> to religious practices involving metallic mercury ("azogue").
> --     Mercury releases (e.g., from breaking a thermometer or
> thermostat) are difficult to clean up properly. Improper cleanup can
> lead to ongoing, serious exposures in homes and workplaces.
> Source: ATSDR and U.S. EPA National Alert
> (www.atsdr.cdc.gov/alerts/970626.html)