Way Back When We Used Mercury In Health Care

The world is catching up to UHN and it’s a good thing.  At the beginning of this year the world’s governments got together and signed an important treaty  that will lead to the phase out of mercury containing products in health care this decade.  This is a big step forward on the issue that put greening health care on the table for UHN way back in 2000 when we started our mercury phase out program.

I remember the day clearly.  I was a student and I had audited all the nooks and crannies at TGH looking for mercury thermometers and blood pressure cuffs (sphygmomanometers).  I had come up with a number of how many items, and how much mercury TGH had to get rid of.  I was going to share my results with my boss (it was Ed even back then) and his boss and others that were equally concerned about this potent neurotoxin getting into the water supply or breaking on a patient room floor and causing much distress for anyone who had to come and clean it up.

Now let me dust off that file and see what that magic number was.  I estimated we had about 350 kg of mercury at TGH, 93% of which was likely in about 1574 blood pressure cuffs.  That is a lot of mercury but pretty standard for a hospital just a decade ago. Considering that Health Canada says that fish containing 0.5 micrograms (1 millionth of a gram) of mercury is not safe to eat, 350 kg could contaminate a lot a fish, habitats and people.

Good news, we got that mercury out of here and disposed of it safely. By 2008 we were virtually mercury free at TGH, TWH and PMH.  And we did it way before the world agreed it was a good idea.

But good ideas travel at a moderate strolling pace and the World Health Organization and Health Care Without Harm who have never forgotten how miserable mercury can make the planet, have just announced that there will be an end to the manufacture, import and export of
mercury thermometers and blood pressure devices by 2020.

Another step closer to health care that does not create health problems for UHN and the world.  Way to go world!

3 thoughts on “Way Back When We Used Mercury In Health Care

  1. It is always so refreshing to read how people are making a difference and I want to congratulate you on being so progressive in protecting human health and the environment. We all know that human health is directly linked to the health of our environment and that is why I want to bring one more issue of mercury to the table that has to do with lighting. The fluorescent tubes that light hospitals all contain mercury and if not properly disposed of, that mercury is still escaping and affecting our health and the health of environment. The good news is, you have the power to change that and our Take Back the Light program is your answer. Take Back the Light is a fluorescent lamp recycling program that is built on the principles of green procurement and necessitates the end-of-life management of fluorescent lamps. The program works with lighting suppliers who, through the program, offer recycling services as part of their contract with clients. Please visit our web site to learn more http://www.TakeBacktheLight.ca or contact me at jodi@rco.on.ca.

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