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BAN OF MERCURY FEVER THERMOMETERS

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance Monday banning the sale, import and manufacture of mercury thermometers within San Francisco's city and county limits. Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) praised the board's decision, which makes San Francisco the first county in the nation to enact such a ban. Duluth, MN was the first city in the nation to ban the retail sale of mercury fever thermometers.

"This is a great day for fish, and for every bird and every person who eats fish," said Charlotte Brody, RN, of HCWH. "Health Care Without Harm wants to thank the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for their leadership and concern about mercury!"

Mercury is a known neurotoxin and particularly hazardous to developing fetuses and young children. Poison control centers and emergency rooms took 18,000 calls in 1998 because of broken mercury fever thermometers. Some of these exposures have resulted in serious health effects for those involved, including damage to the liver, kidneys and nervous system. If mercury spills from a thermometer and is not cleaned up, it will evaporate, potentially reaching dangerous levels in indoor air. Mercury is also a persistent bioaccumulative toxic compound, recognized as a global pollutant. Fish consumption advisories exist in 40 states due to mercury contamination.

San Francisco's ban is consistent with many national mercury elimination initiatives in healthcare. In June, the Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution banning mercury thermometers in city-owned hospitals and clinics. In addition to local initiatives, in 1998, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Hospital Association (AHA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The goal of the MOU was the virtual elimination of mercury in healthcare.

Selected fire stations around the city of San Francisco have begun exchanging residents' mercury fever thermometers for free digital ones. The exchange will continue throughout May.

"We hope this ordinance and the ordinance passed in Duluth will spark the involvement of local governments and pharmacy chains around the country," said Jamie Harvie, HCWH's mercury coordinator. "This is a wonderful opportunity for them to protect the health and the environment of the communities they serve by voluntarily stopping the sale of mercury fever thermometers."

HCWH is an international coalition of more than 260 organizations committed to transforming the health care industry so it is no longer a source of environmental harm. HCWH has several member organizations in the Bay Area: Breast Cancer Action, the Breast Cancer Fund, Catholic Healthcare West, Center for Environmental Health, Commonweal, Greater Bay Area Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Greenaction, Jenifer Altman Foundation, National Brain Tumor Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, People United for a Better Oakland (PUEBLO), Surfers' Medical Association and Women's Cancer Resource Center. Information about HCWH, including the brochure "Mercury Thermometers and your Family's Health," is available at www.noharm.org.

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Written by: Health Care Without Harm


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