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EPA Recognizes 47 New England Hospitals For Mercury Reduction Efforts; Hartford Hospital Leads Way Among Connecticut Health-Care Facilities

Release Date: 04/19/2001
Contact Information: Andrew Spejewski, EPA Press Office (617-918-1014)

HARTFORD – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Connecticut's top environmental and public health officials today recognized 47 New England hospitals - including three in Connecticut - for their successful efforts over the past year in reducing their use of mercury, a toxic pollutant that is pervasive in water bodies and freshwater fish all across New England.

The 47 health-care facilities were honored at a news conference at Hartford Hospital as part of EPA's "Partners for Change" Mercury Challenge Program. This year's 47 participants - including Hartford Hospital, William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, CT and Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam, CT - represents more than a three-fold increase from last year's 13 facilities.

Over the last two years, participants in the voluntary program have eliminated more than 1,120 pounds of mercury from their waste streams by replacing mercury-containing equipment such as thermometers and sphygmomanometers, recycling and/or replacing high mercury flourescent bulbs with lower mercury bulbs, reducing use of mercury-containing laboratory chemicals and educating staff on mercury reduction techniques.

Very small amounts of mercury can cause significant damage. One gram of mercury per year is enough to contaminate all the fish in a lake with a surface area of 20 acres.

"Hartford Hospital and dozens of other medical facilities across New England are making a major difference in reducing mercury in our environment," said Ira Leighton, acting regional administrator at EPA's New England Office, which launched the voluntary program in 1999. "These facilities deserve a lot of credit for their leadership and commitment in tackling one of the region's most serious environmental and public health threats. Hartford Hospital, in particular, deserves credit for single-handedly removing more than 275 pounds of mercury from its waste stream."

"We are proud to receive this recognition from the EPA and pledge to continue our efforts to reduce mercury contamination in the state," said John J. Meehan, Hartford Hospital President and CEO. Mr. Meehan added that the hospital is planning a community thermometer exchange in June, allowing area residents to exchange mercury-containing thermometers for digital ones.

"The hospitals we are recognizing today are to be commended for stepping up and addressing the problem of mercury in the environment. Their leadership will serve as an example to others as to what can be accomplished through a committed mercury reduction campaign," said Arthur J. Rocque, Jr., Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. "Connecticut's aggressive approach to removing mercury from the waste stream includes individual efforts to remove it from homes and schools as well as the medical community and our hospitals. We are well on our way toward our goal of removing 2001 pounds of mercury from Connecticut's environment by the end of 2001."

"Human exposure to mercury occurs primarily from breathing contaminated air. Mercury affects the nervous system and the developing fetus, and can also affect the kidneys, lungs and skin," said Norma Gyle, Deputy Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health. "The CT DPH is committed to working with the DEP, EPA and our community health facilities to educate the public on the health effects that exposure to mercury can have, and to reduce the amount of mercury in our workplaces, homes, and the environment."

Mercury is a highly toxic metal that moves between water, air and soil as a result of natural and human activities. Coal-burning power plants and solid waste incineration are the primary sources of mercury pollution nationwide.

Mercury exposure can lead to irreversible neurological effects, including learning disabilities and delayed motor skill development, particularly in young children. Across New England, 83 percent of the rivers, lakes and streams are so polluted with mercury that residents must limit their consumption of freshwater fish caught in them. All six New England states have fish advisories in place due to mercury contamination.

The Partners for Change Mercury Challenge is designed to promote voluntary, measurable mercury reductions at medical facilities. Medical facilities commit to meeting their own specified mercury reduction goals and agree to make good faith voluntary efforts to identify and implement prevention measures. To be recognized as a partner, a medical facility must have a mercury inventory, set a quantifiable mercury reduction goal, implement an action plan, and report on progress made toward achieving its goal.

To help boost participation in the program, EPA last fall mailed letters to all 276 of New England's health care facilities, challenging them to eliminate mercury and mercury containing waste from their waste streams by 2003.

After this year, the regional Partners for Change program will be incorporated into a national mercury reduction effort, "Hospitals for a Healthy Environment," coordinated between EPA and the American Hospital Association. More information on this program is available at
http://www.h2e-online.org/in_hospital.asp
.

The Mecury Challenge Program is among numerous actions EPA has taken in recent years to reduce mercury emissions into the environment. Among those steps:

    • EPA announced in December it will require reductions of mercury emissions from coal-burning plants nationally. This decision is important to New England both for the plants within the region and because significant amounts of mercury drift into the region from upwind states.
    • EPA has already taken steps to substantially reduce mercury emissions from municipal and medical waste incinerators, which is important for New England because so many municipalities and hospitals burn their waste. Municipal incinerators are New England's largest source of airborne mercury, accounting for half of the mercury in the air compared to only 10 percent from the region's power plants. EPA guidelines issued in 1995 have resulted in a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions from these incinerators. In 1997, EPA also issued guidelines requiring medical waste incinerators to reduce their emissions. In recent years all New England states have adopted or are intending to adopt even stricter state standards for incinerator emissions.
    • And in November of last year, EPA's New England Office sent letters to all of the region's cities and towns, calling on them to ban the retail sales of mercury fever thermometers in their communities. The letter was sent on the heels of the city of Boston banning such sales.
The Connecticut Hospitals Recognized as Partners for Change are:

Hartford Hospital
Hartford Hospital's mercury reduction efforts included the replacement of 765 wall mounted and 200 portable mercury sphygmomanometers with non-mercury aneroid units, resulting in about 241 pounds of mercury being recycled. Other actions include removing 35 pounds of mercury from their service areas that had been historically used for maintenance activities, converting from mercury containing thermometers to non-mercury electronic, and recycling its fluorescent light bulbs.

EPA also recognized the hospital for its various non-mercury environmental programs. The hospital has developed a centralized chemical inventory computer data base in order to identify duplicate ordering from different departments. The hospital is currently recycling both Formaldehyde and Americlear (a xylene substitute) on-site. Last year the hospital recycled 698,560 pounds of cardboard, 35,220 pounds of white paper and newspaper, 15,700 pounds of confidential waste, 14,560 pounds of bottles and cans and 7,927 pounds of fluorescent lights. In 1999, the hospital eliminated ethylene oxide from its facility by purchasing a new technology that does not utilize ethylene oxide. And in 1998 the hospital eliminated a toxic waste stream by replacing a hazardous product used to perform parts washing. The hospital has also begun converting PCB light ballasts with about 35 percent of the facility converted to date. And lastly, in 1998, the hospital started a program to recycle old computers, with about 1,000 computers recycled to date.

William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich

William W. Backus Hospital's mercury reduction achievements included the elimination of mercury containing oral thermometers and the conversion of 99 percent of the hospital's mobile sphygmomanometers with a non-mercury alternative. In the coming months, the hospital plans to replace the stationary mercury-containing sphygmomanometers. The hospital has also eliminated about 1,100 mercury thermometers a year by discontinuing the practice of sending mercury thermometers home with patients. In addition, the hospital began purchasing low mercury containing fluorescent light bulbs in 1998. This has resulted in a 60 percent reduction in regular light bulb recycling amounts. The hospital plans to continue replacing fluorescent bulbs with low mercury bulbs and mercoid switches and other minor ancillary equipment with appropriate substitutes as they become available, with a target date of total replacement by 2003.

Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam

Day Kimball Hospital's mercury reduction achievements include the elimination of mercury thermometers from its laboratory. The hospital laboratory and pharmacy have also taken steps to purchase products to replace mercury containing products. The hospital recycles mercury waste from its laboratory, pharmacy and nursing units. In addition, the hospital is starting to trial non-mercury patient thermometers. Day Kimball Hospital's mercury reduction goal is to eliminate the use of mercury thermometers and mercury blood pressure units. In addition, the hospital will look for alternatives to replace other mercury containing surgical equipment and switches. Day Kimball hopes to reduce its mercury by 33 percent by 2004.


For more information on how to reduce mercury at a medical facility, call 1-888-372-7341. Request the "Mercury Challenge environmental pocketbook," a resource guide with useful tips on mercury reduction, as well as phone, e-mail and worldwide web listings of EPA help lines or access our Mercury Challenge website at
http://www.epa.gov/region01/healthcare/mercurychallenge.html.