Health Ministry to prohibit mercury-filled devices

Public given no instructions on how to dispose of banned instruments.

July 25, 2013 01:39
1 minute read.
Taking blood for an HIV test [illustrative]

Taking blood for an HIV test 370 (R). (photo credit: Yannis Behrakis / Reuters)

By the end of 2014, the Health Ministry will prohibit the sale, possession and and use by medical institutions of all mercury thermometers and sphygmomanometers (blood pressure measuring machines).

But the ministry announcement was not accompanied by any instructions to the public how to safely dispose of them immediately.

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The ministry’s decision on phasing out the devices was announced on Wednesday following a recommendation by the World Health Organization that the sale and use of thermometers and sphygmomanometers filled with mercury – which is a toxic metal and harmful if the glass tubes holding them break – be discontinued.

Prof. Arnon Afek, head of the ministry’s medical branch, wrote to all the hospitals, health funds and the chief medical officer of the Israel Defense Forces stating that it will not allow use of the devices after the last day of 2014. In addition, from the beginning of 2015, the import and manufacture in Israel of such devices will be barred.

However, the ministry – which released the official directive to health reporters with no other explanation – did not explain how the public should dispose of the mercury-filled devices if they wanted to now. People who read about the directive and have a mercury-filled device may just throw them into the garbage, which will be hauled away to garbage dumps. Without instructions, throwing them into the garbage could result in widespread pollution of underground aquifers and harm to anyone who came in contact with the thermometers and sphygmomanometers.

The Jerusalem Post pointed this out to Afek, who conceded that he wrote his directive for medical officials and not for the general public, even though it was sent to reporters for immediate publication. He said that the public should hold on to its mercury-filled devices for the time being, as ministry public health chief Prof. Itamar Grotto has begun to prepare instructions for the public to dispose” of them if they didn’t want to wait until the end of 2014.

The medical institutions were told to treat the mercury devices as “dangerous waste,” but no details were given.

Afek advised those who received his instructions to use alternative, non-mercury devices, but he did not say what they were – whether only digital or of another type, and whether the alternative devices were as accurate as the mercury ones.

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