Dangerous levels of mercury have been found in the indoor air of two Delhi hospitals, indicating a persistent toxic exposure to the healthcare staff and those visiting these and similar facilities, according to a new study by Toxics Link, a Delhi-based environmental group.
Releasing the report titled: Mercury in Hospital Indoor Air: Staff and Patients at Risk, here at a press conference, Mr. Ravi Agarwal, Director of the group, said that the issue of occupational hazard to the medical staff and larger community, including young children and pregnant women, should be taken very seriously.
The findings from tests conducted at the hospitals revealed that the dangerous metal, which vaporises at room temperature, is present in amounts far exceeding the prescribed limits. Though the study also highlighted that the heavy metal is so dangerous that the concept of safe limit does not apply to it.
Ingestion, inhalation and skin absorption of mercury is proven to result in damage to the central nervous system and kidneys. The minor symptoms include nausea, blurred vision, painful breathing, excessive salivation and pneumonitis. In the long-term it is known to cause memory problems, hypertension, vision impairment, hallucinations and personality disorders.
Mr. Prashant Pastore, the lead investigator of the study, drew attention to in an earlier study conducted by the group it was found that close to 70 thermometer breakages occur every month in 300 to 500 bedded hospitals. Besides this, on an average a hospital pumps almost three kg of mercury in the environment each year.
Mr. Agarwal underscored an overwhelming international out cry against mercury and demands for phasing it out. "Even as we speak a global release of a study spanning across 21 countries, including India of which we are a part, is taking place that substantiates findings of our study," he said. The report has been authored by Health Care Without Harm and Health & Environmental Alliance and was released today at Brussels.
At present there are no standards for mercury in the indoor ambient air. Though the Government had placed a limit for occupational exposure of mercury at the level at which it crosses the skin-barrier for alkali compounds. The above standard under the Factories Act of 1948, amended in 1987, do not apply to healthcare facilities.
"We want the policymakers to take up the task of mercury replacement is healthcare institutions with urgency. Many institutions have taken up steps towards placing mercury management policy," Mr. Agarwal asserted.
Findings of the Study
* The study was conducted in two hospitals of Delhi.
* These hospitals have phased out mercury thermometers and have in place a mercury management policy.
* All the test locations showed presence of mercury vapour at varied levels.
* The nursing station and maintenance room in the hospital B showed a higher concentration of mercury than other parts.
* The highest concentration was found in storage and calibration areas of the hospital A.
* The dental wing of both the hospital also had very high level of mercury (3.11µg/m3)
* The levels were also high in maternity and general wards thus posing substantiation risk to newborn babies and patients
* Findings indicate that there is an urgent need for regulatory intervention to minimise mercury emissions in indoor air of health care facility.
* Agency for Toxic"We want the policymakers to take up the task of mercury replacement is healthcare institutions with urgency. Many institutions have taken up steps towards placing mercury management policy," Mr. Agarwal asserted. Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) had suggested and 1.0µg/m3 is action level for remediation.
* The study recommends that the all the hospitals must substitute mercury-based products.
* Finally, the study recommends large-scale investigations of this nature for a more comprehensive policy intervention.