Hospitals told to phase out mercury use
Hospitals have been advised to apply proper procedures in handling mercury waste and gradually replace health equipment containing mercury.
The call was made in a workshop on mercury-free health care Monday amid concerns over a lack of awareness on the urgency to take action in phasing out the use of the dangerous substance, and to apply sustainable medical waste management, where hospitals should be the leading sector.
A survey conducted late last year by Bali Fokus Foundation in 14 hospitals in Denpasar showed that most health officers still did not know they were at grave risk of being frequently exposed to mercury in their workplace by using equipment containing mercury.
“Some hospitals do not even have guidelines on handling mercury waste resulting from, for instance, a broken thermometer or sphygmomanometer,” said Bali Fokus researcher Yuyun Ismawati.
“It is urgent to phase out the use of mercury. Safer alternative equipment, which are more environmentally friendly, are available in the market. It is up to the hospitals’ will,” she told workshop participants, mostly hospital workers.
Peter Orris, public health professor from the University of Illinois, told participants about the health effects of mercury, which depends on the form of the mercury, type of exposure (acute or chronic), route of exposure and the dose.
“Acute exposure to high levels of elemental [liquid metal] of mercury can cause tremors, slowed motor nerve functions and memory loss, while acute inhalation of high amounts of it can cause chest pain, acute renal failure and shortness of breath.
“Physicians should explore eliminating mercury-containing products in their offices and clinical practices, and encourage local hospitals and medical facilities to phase out mercury-containing products and switch to non-mercury equivalents,” he said as stated by the World Medical Association.
“The vast majority of mercury can be removed from health care equipment. All can be substituted, but technological improvement is needed.”
Following a survey in Denpasar, seven of the 14 hospitals said they were willing to join a pilot project to eliminate mercury use and sustainable medical waste management facilitated by Bali Fokus. They signed last month an MoU with the city’s environmental agency.
The seven hospitals are Sanglah, Puri Raharja, Puri Bunda, Udayana army hospital, Trijata police hospital, Bali Royal Hospital and Wangaya hospital.
In the program, the hospital workers will join capacity-building training on handling mercury waste. They should also arrange plans on the gradual replacement of mercury-containing equipment and provide temporary storage for the waste.
“Based on our observation, some hospitals in Denpasar have yet to apply specific procedures on handling mercury. Waste is disposed in the usual way, mixed with other medical waste or by burning in an incinerator,” said Bali Fokus director Bayu Susila.
“Hospitals should arrange an action plan on phasing out mercury-containing equipment, and we will regularly hold meetings to discuss their progress, and find solutions to problems in this program,” he said.
Head of the city’s environment agency Bagus Sudharsana said his office and the sanitary agency would build temporary storage for mercury waste in Suwung landfill before the waste is transferred to the center of medical-waste handling in Cileungsi, West Java.
“If this program works, Denpasar will be an example for a similar program in three other cities: Medan, Makassar and Yogyakarta,” he added.
Surata, an officer with the Sanglah Hospital’s sanitation division, said the hospital had actually begun to phase out the use of mercury-containing equipment, including by using digital thermometers, but would conduct further evaluation on the equipment procurement.
“The hospital management has supported us in joining this mercury phasing out program, but we can only conduct it step by step,” he said, adding that the hospital already applied specific procedures on handling mercury waste.