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Mercury Use in Healthcare

A pile of mercury thermometers.

Mercury-containing devices have long been used in hospitals and health care settings. These include fever thermometers, blood pressure measuring devices (sphygmomanometers), and esophageal dilators.

When such devices break, the mercury they contain can vaporize and expose health care workers and patients. Mercury from breakages can contaminate the immediate area of the spill as well as the facility’s waste- water discharges. Such equipment breakages are common. Hospitals using mercury fever thermometers frequently report that they replace multiple thermometers per year for each hospital bed. A survey reported that the breakage rate of thermometers in a medium size hospital is 70 per month.

In January 2013, acknowledging these risks, 147 governments agreed on draft text for the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which aims to protect human health and the environment from emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.  While significant progress has been made since then, mercury devices are still in use in hospitals and clinics across the world.