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February , 2011
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Coimbatore GH turns mercury-free, first outside Delhi

K A Shaji
Source: The Times of India, Date: December , 2010

Highly toxic mercury thermometers have made their way out of the Coimbatore Government Medical College Hospital as it turns into South India's first mercury-free hospital.

A zero-mercury movement is on at the state-run medical college hospital for the last two months on the initiative of the district administration. A drop of mercury from a thermometer can pollute a water body spanning 20 acres and it affects the reproductive and nervous systems. The hospital has already stopped using mercury based thermometers and sphygmomanometers (devices to measure blood pressure). Instead, they have purchased digital thermometers and mercury-free sphygmomanometers.

"Everyday, we are using about 80 mercury-free thermometers and they help protect the patients and staff from the adverse effects of the heavy risk substance,'' resident medical officer R Sivaprakasam told The Times of India.

Interestingly, the concept of making the medical college hospital mercury-free is the brainchild of district collector Dr P Umanath, a medical doctor. After attending an awareness programme organized by Toxics Link, an NGO in the field, on the different health hazards posed by mercury, the collector instructed the hospital to stop use of mercury-based thermometers and sphygmomanometers. On its part, the dental wing of the hospital stopped using mercury long before.

"It is a rare achievement. Coimbatore Medical College Hospital is the sixth mercury-free hospital in the entire country. The other five are located in Delhi, where the state government itself was engaged in the campaign against mercury," said G Arun Senthil Ram, regional programme head of Toxics Link, which is campaigning for mercury-free hospitals.

According to the district collector, the unique distinction of the state-run medical college would force many private players to use non-mercury medical kits.

"Four major hospitals in Coimbatore city have already indicated their readiness to join our initiative to phase out use of mercury from the healthcare sector. Sensitization initiatives are on and we are hopeful of making at least 15 hospitals in Coimbatore mercury-free by the end of next year," Umanath said.

The conversion to digital equipment is not expensive, according to Toxics Link. "The price range of branded digital thermometers is between Rs 150 and 200. There are cheaper models too and they cost just Rs 40. We are in a continuous campaign for safe and better alternatives as a single drop of mercury is sufficient to pollute a 20-acre lake ," Ram said.

According Toxics Link studies in Chennai hospitals, at least 50 thermometers get broken in a medium-size hospital every month. "The toxic substance severely affects the reproductive system, nerves and the IQ level. It is ironic that hospitals are playing a major role in releasing mercury to air and water," says K Kalidasan, president of OSAI, another voluntary organization engaged in the campaign against mercury.

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