The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 19, 2002


What you can do to fight the health hazards of mercury

Why is it important to exchange your mercury fever thermometer for a digital one? Mercury is a pollutant that is toxic to the nervous system. When mercury-containing products are broken or incinerated with trash, it can evaporate quickly and be deposited in lakes and rivers where it can be transformed into methylmercury, the most toxic form. Methylmercury builds up in the flesh of fish and may ultimately end up back on the dinner table. The amount of mercury in a single thermometer is enough to contaminate all the fish in a lake with a surface area of 20 acres. At least 80 bodies of water in Massachusetts currently have fish consumption advisories for pregnant women and children, since unborn children are most at risk to methylmercury poisoning.

By turning in mercury thermometers for safe recovery we can play a significant role in protecting the environment (and ourselves) from mercury exposure. At the same time you are turning in your mercury fever thermometers, look around your home for other sources of mercury, for example; thermostats, candy thermometers, decorative barometers and manometers. Bring these with your fever thermometers for safe recycling. Watch out for openings (especially on barometers and manometers) where the mercury might leak out if the unit is tipped over.

What other steps can you take to reduce mercury? Whenever possible, the best alternative is to choose products that are mercury-free or lower in mercury to begin with. Also,

· Replace mercury-containing analog thermostats (e.g. most round Honeywell units) with programmable digital thermostats. Programmable electronic thermostats are mercury free, convenient and cost effective since they offer energy savings by automatically lowering the thermostat at night or when no one is home. See the January 2001 issue of Consumer Reports for a very favorable and informative review of programmable thermostats.

· Recycle all fluorescent light bulbs by handing them to a Transfer Station attendant. All fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, so proper disposal is in order.

· Switch light bulbs and lighting fixtures to low-wattage fluorescent lights. The amount of mercury contained in fluorescent lighting is less than the mercury emitted to the environment by generating the additional power required for higher wattage incandescent lights. It is also easier to capture the mercury from fluorescent lights than to remove airborne mercury generated by power plants.

· Choose energy-efficient appliances. Because power generation plants are a major source of mercury pollution, burning less coal and oil (that naturally contain mercury) for generation of electricity will reduce the mercury released to the environment,

You can make a difference. Start by exchanging your mercury fever thermometer for a digital thermometer at the board of health office in Town Hall (while supplies last). Thermometers can also be turned in to the attendant at the transfer station. For more information, call the board of health at 1-978-369-0283.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito