University of Minnesota
Minnesota Technical Assistance Program

Mercury in Patient Care Areas

Mercury is present in many of the patient care areas of healthcare facilities. Changing to nonmercury sphygmomanometers and thermometers eliminates only a couple of the sources of mercury from health care settings. Mercury is present in many types of equipment and chemicals. This fact sheet outlines the potential sources of mercury in the patient care areas of health care facilities.

Many healthcare facilities are working to eliminate mercury. It is a toxin associated with nervous system disorders and is especially toxic to newborn babies, children and pregnant women. Mercury can also have an adverse effect on wildlife.

In addition to adverse health impacts, hospitals have many reasons to reduce their use of mercury. New federal air and water regulations greatly reduce the amount of mercury allowed to be discharged from a municipal wastewater system or an incinerator. Mercury can now be measured at lower levels, making it easier for regulatory agencies to identify facilities that are not in compliance.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Hospital Association (AHA) have committed to a voluntary agreement to virtually eliminate mercury waste in hospitals and health systems.

Reducing mercury in the clinical areas of your healthcare facility can reduce the level of mercury in the environment and help your facility avoid the need to increase its investment in pollution controls and waste disposal.

Steps to Identify Mercury

Examine your chemicals and equipment. Read container labels, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) and inserts that come with the chemicals. MSDSs will generally not identify mercury levels below one percent, as manufacturers are not required to list hazardous components of a product below this level.

Contact your sales representatives and product manufacturers to ask about mercury in their products. Request a certificate of analysis (COA) or other data on the mercury concentration in chemical products.

When setting up purchase contracts, require disclosure of all hazardous materials in the products as part of the contract. Choose mercury-free products, if possible. If there are no mercury-free products that meet the needs of the healthcare facility, choose those that are the lowest in mercury concentration.

MnTAP maintains the following list of potential mercury-containing chemicals and equipment solely as a service to Minnesota healthcare facilities. This is not a complete list.

Potential Mercury-containing Chemicals

  • Cleaners and degreasers, including CIDEX, Derma Scrub, Dove soap and Soft Scrub. Additional cleaners are listed in MnTAP’s fact sheet Mercury in Nonclinical Health Care Areas [#10b]
  • Diuretics (mersalyl and salts)
  • Immune salines
  • Products containing the preservatives Mercurochrome, Mercurothiolate, Merthiolate, Mertorgan, Merzonin, thimerosal and thimerosalate. Examples include bactericides, contact lens products, hemorrhoidal ointments, nasal sprays, ophthalmic products, Riasol and skin bleaching creams
  • Teething powders
  • X-ray developers
  • X-ray fixers

Potential Mercury-containing Equipment and Supplies

  • Barometers
  • CAT scan paper
  • Feeding tubes; older, weighted varieties
  • Gastrointestinal tubes: esophageal and intestinal dilators, including Hurst and Maloney bougies, Cantor and Miller-Abbot tubes
  • Hydrometers (used to measure specific gravity)
  • Lamps: cold/hot cathode germicidal, fluorescent, high-intensity discharge (HID), high-pressure sodium vapor, metal halide, slimline germicidal, spectral and ultraviolet (UV)
  • Mercuric oxide batteries in blood analyzers, cardiac monitors, defibrillators, electrocardiogram (ECG) monitors, fetal monitors, hearing aids, Holter monitors, IV pumps, laryngoscopes, oxygen analyzers/monitors, pacemakers, pagers, picker calibers, spirometer alarms, telemetry transmitters and temperature alarms
  • Ophthalmic weights, such as the “Wee Bag O’Mercury”
  • Otoscopes, older models
  • Pigmented plastics, red bags and red blood tube caps
  • Scoliometers
  • Sphygmomanometers
  • Switches in patient beds
  • Thermometers
  • Thermostat probes in clothes dryers and space heaters
  • Thermostats in incubators

Resources for Mercury Data

Several online databases list products containing mercury. Products become listed either by their manufacturers submitting information or by being tested. Additional products, that are not included in the databases, may contain mercury.

For More Information

The Sustainable Hospitals Project offers information on selecting healthcare products that offer greater occupational safety and less environmental impact than some of the traditional products used. These products include mercury-free alternatives. Also, see its fact sheet Removing Mercury from Hospital Labs.

Practice Greenhealth (PGH) and MnTAP have information about mercury and how to eliminate its use in your facility. PGH is a membership and networking organization for institutions in the healthcare community that have made a commitment to sustainable, eco-friendly practices.

#10c | 09/2007

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