Mercury ban imminent

Europe has come a step closer to banning the use of mercury in medical devices such as thermometers but environmental NGOs want Brussels to extend the ban to cover household barometers.

Last week the European Parliament’s environment committee voted in support of the EC proposal to ban mercury from home thermometers and also added its own amendment calling for the hazardous metal to also be prohibited from healthcare devices.

The committee argues that with alternatives readily available there is no reason not to extend the ban to cover hospitals.

The future of small household barometers using mercury still hangs in the balance, however, with the committee throwing out the commission’s proposal to restrict their sale so the public cannot buy them.

The European Environmental Bureau, a pressure group which keeps a close eye on goings on in Brussels, have welcomed the committee’s position, though want to see a harder line taken on barometers.

“The committee have very sensibly held fast to their position on the EU’s Strategy on Mercury regarding healthcare devices,” said the EEB’s Elena Lymberidi.

“As long as the full Parliament votes for this position at the next stage of the legislative procedure, the public and our environment will be better protected from the scourge of mercury.”

NGOs also expressed relief that the committee was taking a stand on mercury use in the healthcare sector.

“This is potentially great news for the public, patients, medical staff and the environment,” said Karolina Ruzickova, from Health Care Without Harm Europe.

“If this ban becomes law, mercury exposure risks in healthcare can be dramatically reduced.”

According to health and environment NGOs there is no shortage of high-quality mercury-free alternatives for both thermometers and blood pressure instruments which can already be bought in Europe.

“Although some exceptions for professional blood pressure instruments may still be allowed, this ban can bring us a long way in eliminating unnecessary and highly risky use of mercury,” said Lisette van Vliet, toxics policy advisor for the European Public Health Alliance.

“Mercury contamination from blood pressure instruments in and from hospitals is still a big problem. We hope that mercury-free alternatives are carefully considered when exemptions are permitted”.

The NGOs want even more to be done to restrict the use of mercury and are united in their opposition to the sale of barometers to the public, saying they pose a severe risk to health and the environment if they break, particularly if they are in people’s homes.

The European Parliament will vote on the environment committee’s recommendations in October and the council of member states is expected to vote on the issue in December.

Sam Bond

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