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.
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
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
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.