Four hospitals in Kerala have embarked on a novel initiative to phase out mercury- based equipment, as part of a global programme to cut down on the use of the toxic liquid metal in the healthcare sector.

The programme covering the Lakeshore Hospital and Research Centre, Kochi, Taluk Hospital, Parassala, and Samad IVF Hospital and Jubilee Memorial Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram has been initiated by Toxics Links, a non-profit organisation based in New Delhi and the Centre for Innovation in Science and Social Action (CISSA), an NGO operating from Kerala.

Satish Sinha, Associate Director, Toxic Links said, “This is a progressive step in the light of the global initiative to phase out mercury because of its devastating impact on human health”.

Mercury is a potent neuro- and nephro- toxic substance widely used in medical equipment like thermometers, sphygmomanometers, dental amalgams and laboratory reagents.

It has been linked to nervous system disorders, learning disabilities, memory loss and even cancers. Infants are more vulnerable to mercury poisoning.

A pressnote quoting Dr.C. Sureshkumar, general secretary, CISSA said hospital staff were ill-trained and poorly equipped to deal with leakage of mercury from broken equipment. “The toxic metal is handled without any protective gear and disposed of either along with incinerable waste, general waste or into drains, all of which could lead to its entry into the food chain”.

The pressnote said the Lakeshore Hospital had worked out a policy to phase out mercury based equipment. The staff had been trained on mercury hazards and spillage management kits were made available throughout the hospital. Segregation and collection of mercury contaminated waste was also being done. However, safe disposal and recycling is still an issue, according to Dr.Thomas Thachil, Medical Superintendent. The dental department at the hospital has replaced mercury- based amalgams with composite fillings. The Taluk Hospital, Parassala and Samad IVF Hospital and Jubilee Memorial Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram, have trained doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, attendants and cleaning staff on the hazards of mercury.

Mercury thermometers and mercury- based sphygmomanometers (BP apparatus) are being replaced with digital thermometers and aneroid equipment and mercury spillage kits provided in the wards. Samad Hospital has also taken steps to replace all CFL lamps with LED lights.

Training on mercury hazards was also conducted for the staff of the Sri Chithra Tirunal Institute of Medical Science and Technology and Taluk Hospital, Varkala.