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Issue 8
, 2008
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Delhi Government hospitals on track to eliminate toxic heavy metal mercury

Avishek G Dastidar
Source: Hindustan Times, Date: , 2008

Delhi Government hospitals are on the fast track to eliminate toxic heavy metal mercury from the health- care system. After the latest meeting between medical superintendents of 30-odd hospitals and representatives of the health department, it was decided that hospitals would not buy new mercury thermometers anymore.

Big and medium hospitals have kept budgetary provisions to buy digital thermometers in the next financial year and across the board including dispensaries instructions have been issued to not discard mercury waste from broken thermometer instruments. "The first task is to phase out thermometers because they are most susceptible to breakage and are the easiest to replace with digital ones. In that order comes the replacement of blood- pressure measuring instruments and dental amalgams. Amalgams are the toughest to replace," said a senior government official.

Last year, a study by NGO Toxics Link had found that each hospital in Delhi discharged around three kilo- grams of mercury in the environment every year. Considering public health hazards of mercury waste discarded in the en- vironment, the hospitals are now sup- posed to contain mercury in a glass jar filled with water until a proper dispos- al mechanism is found out.

As per several studies, mercury which adverse- ly affects the nervous system contaminates ground water and surface water bodies when discarded irresponsibly, and after spillage, it con- taminates the air as the metal evapo- rates in room temperature. "So the list of measures were taken with inputs from our experts commit- tee on mercury phase-out," he said.

The experts committee, lead by the Dean of Maulana Azad Medical Col- lege Dean Arun Aggarwal, was formed last year. The committee has recently moved away from the original agenda of phasing out mercury from vaccines because the latest research papers have proved that the presence of mer- cury in vaccines was not harmful. "Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, considered the Bible in the medical world, showed that mercury in vaccines was no threat. On the contrary, it said that the anti-mercury drive could hurt various vaccination campaigns. So we have chucked it from the agenda," said Dr T.K. Joshi, the member secretary of the committee.