HCWH's co-founder Gary Cohen is a recipient of the prestigious Skoll Award. This video, chronicling the evolution of HCWH's work, premiered at the 2009 Skoll World Forum. enlarge video
Mercury Legislation in the EU
The EU is investigating the feasibility of banning the sale for professional use of sphygmomanometers which contain mercury.
The investigation follows on from a set of laws passed in 2008 restricting the sale and export of products and compounds containing mercury. Needless to say, environmental groups including HCWH believe the restrictions fall some way short of what is possible.
As the first step the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, has published a report.
You can read the letter written by HCWH and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) in response.
Restrictions on Mercury Sale and Export
The EU has banned the sale of mercury thermometers altogether. It has also banned the sale of mercury blood pressure devices for public use. It recently made illegal the export of raw mercury and some mercury compounds.
|What the EU has banned||And what it hasn't|
|The sale of mercury thermometers for both public and healthcare use
The sale of mercury blood-pressure devices for public use
The export of liquid (raw) mercuryThe export of some mercury compounds
|The sale of mercury
blood-pressure devices for healthcare use
The export of mercury blood-pressure devices and thermometers
Products and devices containing mercury have not, however, been banned from export. This means manufacturers in the EU can still export items such as mercury thermometers and blood pressure devices for sale abroad, even though they are considered too hazardous for public use within the EU.
NGOs working on the legislation would like the EU export ban to have been strengthened to include products and devices that contain mercury.
The EU export ban was recently mirrored by regulation in the US, which also passed a similar, albeit weaker, ban on liquid mercury exports.
By allowing products which contain mercury to be manufactured in Europe but sold abroad, there is a risk of dumping old, dirty technology on developing countries which are less well-equipped for dealing with the problems of disposing of waste mercury.
Health Care Without Harm in India
Hospitals in developing countries face particular problems with mercury: as sphygmomanometers leak or thermometers break, the spilled mercury becomes swept up into the waste stream.
This waste is then burned, often in open pits, releasing mercury vapour into the atmosphere. In India, an estimated 2.4 metric tonnes of mercury is gets into the environment from broken thermometers every year.
HCWH has partnered in India with Toxics Link, to reduce mercury use and improve waste management and disposal, to reduce the amount of pollution and disease risk from Indian hospitals.
The European Commission is putting together a report on the feasibility of banning the sale of mercury sphygmomanometers for professional use.
If the report finds that economically and technically viable alternatives are widely available, then the likelihood of a ban is higher.
Since mercury has largely been phased out in US hospitals, the Netherlands and Denmark, is already banned in Sweden, and is restricted or recommended against in many other places, HCWH believes a ban is feasible.
If you have experience with mercury-free alternatives, you can help us by getting in touch by email.
- EU Ban on Sale of Mercury-Measuring Instruments (pdf)
- EU Mercury Phase Out in Measuring and Control Equipment (pdf) Report from an EU conference held in Brussels in June 2009 focused on sphygmomanometers in healthcare. Report shows that many European countries have already moved away from mercury-based devices.
- Letter to the national experts- Input to the Working Party on Environment, 18 February 2011 – Need for strong Council conclusions on the revised Community Strategy Concerning Mercury
- Mercury-Free Blood Pressure Measurement Equipment: Experiences in the Swedish Healthcare Sector Interested in reading about the results of Sweden's total ban on the use of mercury in blood pressure devices? Download this report, which found no evidence of harm from the change. (pdf)
- Mercury Phase-out Letter, 13 Nov 2009 (pdf)
Letter to Günter Verheugen, E.U. Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry from HCWH and EEB calling for rapid phase-out of mercury-containing blood pressure devices in healthcare.
- Mercury Sphygmomanometers in Healthcare and the Feasibility of Alternatives (pdf)
Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR)
- Substituting Mercury Sphygmomanometers
Download our fact sheet on how to phase out mercury sphygmos, including a list of alternatives validated by the British Hypertension Society. (pdf)
- Toward the Tipping Point: WHO-HCWH Global Initiative to Substitute Mercury-Based Medical Devices in Health Care. A Two-Year Progress Report (pdf)
- Validated Blood Pressure Monitors
validated by the British Hypertension Society. This website also provides a list of blood pressure monitors which score at least a B grade in the BHS testing protocol. (pdf)
- WHO Policy on Mercury in Health Care (pdf)