It is a highly toxic substance that is dangerous in all forms

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has written to major hospitals in the district to phase out the use of mercury as it is a highly toxic substance, District Environment Engineer of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board K. Kamaraj said here on Sunday.

The board's move was part of world-wide efforts to end the use of mercury, especially in healthcare institutions.

Alternatives

“We have asked the hospitals to find alternatives to mercury-based thermometers and blood pressure measuring apparatus. They have sought time – ranging from three months to almost a year – for the phasing out,” Mr. Kamaraj said, addressing a workshop on “Mercury in the Healthcare Sector”.

The workshop was organised by the IMA, in association with Technotherm, a company involved in the disposal of bio-medical waste and Osai, a non-Governmental organisation.

Private hospitals in Coimbatore should emulate Coimbatore Medical College Hospital (CMCH) in phasing out the use of mercury.

The CMCH was been provided with digital thermometers a month ago to replace mercury-based ones in all wards and out-patient wings.

If a Government hospital could do it, this should not be a difficult task for the corporate hospitals.

Collector

“This workshop is a follow-up of the meeting the District Collector (P. Umanath) held with pollution control experts and hospitals to find alternatives to mercury in the healthcare sector,” Mr. Kamaraj said.

Associate Director of Toxics Link Sathish Sinha said phasing out use of mercury would not be a difficult task. But, there was no method for the disposal of mercury.

Thermometers and other mercury-based apparatus could only be stored at one place and this carried risks. Any accident, including a fire, could set off contamination.

“Mercury is neuro-toxic and nephro-toxic. It is dangerous in all forms – solid, vapourised and as methyl mercury. Countries are working on a total phase out. Hopefully, there will be treaties among nations for this,” he said.

There were only four mercury mines in the world, with the largest one in Spain.

The aim now was to end the mining in order to prevent mercury from entering the industry, it was pointed out.

Drive

Even as there was a drive to replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) as part of energy-saving measures, one could not overlook the fact that the CFLs too contained mercury, he said. Options for safe disposal or recycle of CFLs were being explored.

Speaking on “Alternative to Mercury Equipment – Not Impossible”, Medical Superintendent of CMCH A. Mathivanan said the replacement of mercury equipment was not impossible, going by what had been done at his hospital.

The next effort of the CMCH would be replacing mercury blood pressure apparatus with digital ones.

President of the IMA branch S. Karthik Prabhu, secretary A.K. Ravikumar and president of Osai Kalidasan spoke.

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