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RETAILERS GIVE
MERCURY THERMOMETERS
THE HEAVE-HO

Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) just announced that eleven leading retailers and manufacturers -- Albertson's, Brooks Pharmacy, drugstore.com, Kinney Drugs, Kmart Corporation, Meijer's Supermarkets, Safety 1st, Target, The First Years, Toys 'R Us/Babies 'R Us and Wal Mart -- have received HCWH's "Mercury in Flight" awards for deciding to terminate sales of mercury fever thermometers. "We applaud these retailers and manufacturers for recognizing that mercury fever thermometers are obsolete, a vestige of a time when there was no other safe and reliable way to measure body temperature," says Charlotte Brody, Coordinator of Health Care Without Harm.

It is estimated that the collective actions of these retailers and manufacturers will eliminate over one million thermometers from sale annually. Since one gram of mercury (there is .7 grams of mercury in a typical home fever thermometer) is enough to contaminate all the fish in a 20-acre lake, it is estimated that these one million thermometers, once broken or incinerated, would contaminate all of the fish in a lake the size of Lake Superior!

In explaining its decision to terminate sales of mercury fever thermometers, Pam Powell, Group Vice President of Marketing for Albertson's, a retailer with 2,500 stores in 36 states, explained, "There was a time when mercury fever thermometers were all we had. Now we have options -- options that are economically feasible, medically effective and environmentally friendly." Ms. Powell said it's important for retailers to recognize that 21st century technology offers a far more reliable, safer and environmentally sensitive instrument to measure body temperature -- the digital thermometer.

When asked about expected customer reaction to no longer seeing the familiar mercury fever thermometer on the shelves of their 142 stores, John Zimmerman, Director of Communications and Customer Relations at Meijer's, a chain of supermarkets spanning Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky, said, "Is it inconvenient to change from mercury fever thermometers to digital ones? Yes, in the sense that we're taking away something our customers expect to find on our shelves -- that's never a comfortable position for a retailer to be in. In the case of mercury fever thermometers, however, the benefits to our customers of withdrawing this product from our shelves clearly outweighs the inconvenience."

Cathy Polley, Director of Pharmacy Government and Trade Relations at Kmart, expressed the company's appreciation to HCWH for alerting the retail community that it was time to retire a product that continued to stay on retailer shelves out of habit, rather than out of necessity. Ms. Polley said that Kmart agreed with HCWH that it was in their customers' best interests to terminate sales of mercury fever thermometers. "Kmart has always been committed to providing our customers with affordable products that keep them safe and healthy. And we are proud to be part of the Health Care Without Harm effort that is extending this belief throughout our communities by encouraging the end of mercury thermometer sales."

Jennifer L. Muldoon, Communications Director for Safety 1st, also saw the long-term benefit to customers of removing mercury fever thermometers from its product line. "Safety 1st recognizes the consumer's concern associated with mercury thermometers and we support the efforts of the Health Care Without Harm organization. As of January 2000, Safety 1st discontinued all mercury thermometers from its product line and is phasing out the last of its inventory. We wish Health Care Without Harm continued success in their efforts to educate companies on this matter," said Muldoon.

Drugstore.com's Judith McGarry, Vice President of Corporate Communications, said her company was responding to their customers' concerns. "By withdrawing mercury thermometers from the drugstore.com Web store, we are acting on our commitment to the health, safety, and well-being of our customers. We listen to and act on our customers' feedback. In this case, they told us that mercury thermometers present an unnecessary threat to their families and the environment, said McGarry.

Health Care Without Harm is a not-for-profit collaborative campaign of 290 organizations in 27 different countries working to eliminate pollution from healthcare practices without compromising safety or care. In order to reduce mercury emissions, HCWH has approached not only retailers and manufacturers, but consumers and healthcare providers as well. Its latest partnership with the District of Columbia Department of Health will provide District residents the chance on every Saturday during the month of October to safely dispose of their home mercury fever thermometers at any of the city's 33 fire houses and pick up a free digital one donated by HCWH. To date, HCWH has encouraged 600 hospitals and clinics, including ten District of Columbia hospitals that announced their pledge today, to practice mercury-free medicine.

Very small amounts of mercury can wreak significant environmental and health havoc. Mercury is particularly dangerous to women of childbearing years, pregnant women and young children; a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council warned that at least 60,000 babies per year could be at risk for lower IQ and learning disabilities because their mothers have eaten mercury-contaminated fish and seafood.

Mercury has been linked to an array of neurological problems and can impair the way we hear, talk, see, walk, feel and think. Long before we had scientific data to prove mercury poisoning's effect on the nervous system, people who worked with mercury suffered observable neurological changes. In fact, the strange and unpredictable behavior of the character of the "Mad Hatter" in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland was a parody of mid-nineteenth century hat makers who used mercury during the wool felting process and as a result of the exposure, became erratic and neurologically impaired.

The announcement of the awards to retailers came at the same Children's Hospital press conference during which ten District of Columbia hospitals announced their pledge to eliminate mercury from medical practices. The hospitals that signed the pledge are Children's National Medical Center, George Washington University Hospital, Hadley Memorial Hospital, Howard University Hospital, Sibley Memorial Hospital, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Washington Hospital Center, Greater Southeast Medical Center, DC General Hospital, and National Rehabilitation Hospital.

Written by: Health Care Without Harm


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