Mercury is used throughout health care in a wide variety of products. The most common healthcare-specific devices are thermometers and sphygmomanometers.
The cumulative usage, spills, breakages and disposal of mercury-containing products has led the World Health Organisation to identify the healthcare sector as a significant contributor of mercury pollution.
Mercury is a metal which is toxic for humans and wildlife. High doses can be fatal; even low doses of mercury compounds can have serious neurodevelopmental effects, damaging the cardiovascular, immune and reproductive systems. Recent research indicates that, for some parts of the population, there is no such thing as a safe exposure level for mercury.
Although mercury thermometers were banned from sale in the EU, there are many still in circulation. Blood pressure devices, which may still contain mercury, remain a cause for concern. Fortunately cost-effective non-mercury alternatives exist for nearly all uses of mercury in health care.
HCHW Europe contributed to the elimination of mercury-based thermometers and sphygmomanometers in Europe and their substitution with accurate, economically viable alternatives. Together with the Zero Mercury Working Group, we organised a conference in 2009 to show that the shift to mercury-free sphygmomanometer use in clinical diagnosis and monitoring is fully possible.
We have also published a number of reports and fact sheets about mercury, which you can find here.