A Cork GP has expressed concern about the use of mercury products in the Irish health service, following the mercury ban in Norway.

Dr Philip Michael, Chairman of the Irish Doctors Environ­mental Association has said that there has been no systemic disposal of measuring instruments that use mercury, like thermometers or sphygmomano­meters. “Ireland has a long way to go on this,” Dr Michael said.

“There needs to be a national publicity campaign to make this an issue. Then the collection of the products has to take place in a formalised and systemic manner.” Norway has introduced a total ban on the use of mercury in the manufacturing and im­port and export of products from January 1.

Some European Union countries, including France, already have bans on mercury thermometers. There is nothing in Irish legislation banning any substance that contains mercury, according to Mr Michael McKeown, lecturer in the DCU School of Nursing. Mr McKeown is in the process of producing a fact sheet for Irish doctors on mercury and healthcare, which he hopes to launch in the coming weeks. He told IMN that the situation has improved in many Irish hospitals, where mercury based thermometers and sphygmomanometers have been banned and points to the advent of hospital environmental managers as helping to improve the situation.

For example, Mr McKeown pointed out that the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin has phased out the use of mercury thermometers and sphygmomanometers over the past 10 years. However, Mr McKeown ack­nowledges that there were “different levels of progress” and that some hospitals are still using the products. Also he said that there is no systemic way for regional GPs to dispose of the instruments.

“We have sent a letter to the Minister of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the issue,” Mr McKeown said. “As a result of what is happening in Norway, we hope that something similar can be introduced here.” Mercury is not biogradable and once it is in the environment it turns to methylmercury, its most toxic form.


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