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EPA Recognizes 47 New England Hospitals For Mercury Reduction Efforts, including 6 in New Hampshire

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

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today recognized 47 New England hospitals - including six in New Hampshire - 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 represent 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.

"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. I'm proud to recognize the six facilities leading the way in New Hampshire."

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 Mercury Challenge 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 Mercury 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 New Hampshire Hospitals Recognized as Mercury Challenge Partners for Change are:

Alice Peck Day Memorial in Lebanon
Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital's achievements include the replacement of all of its mercury containing sphygmomanometers and the elimination of mercury containing patient thermometers. Currently, the hospital is phasing out mercury lab thermometers, mercury containing reagents and mercury containing switches. The hospital also recycles both fluorescent light bulbs and batteries through an outside contractor. The hospital's goal is substituting non-mercury containing items for those that contain mercury, whenever the option exists.

Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital and Dartmouth Hitchcock Clinic in Lebanon
Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital and Dartmouth Hitchcock Clinic have eliminated of 80% of their mercury containing sphygmomanometers and all of its mercury patient thermometers throughout the hospital and clinic. Over the last several years, the hospital and clinic have eliminated the use of mercury-filled miller abbott tubes, mercury-filled esophageal dialators and some mercury lab solutions. The hospital and clinic's mercury free resolution strongly encourages the elimination or reduction of mercury and mercury compounds in any process or procedure preformed at the hospital and clinic.

Franklin Regional Hospital in Franklin
Franklin Hospital was recognized last year and this year. In March 2000, the hospital conducted a mercury inventory review which indicated a significant reduction in the number of mercury blood pressure units. By January 2001, all mercury sphygmomanometers will be removed and replaced with a non-mercury alternative. These accomplishments build on last years efforts which included removing most mercury thermometers, adopting a mercury purchasing policy and a community/employee mercury education program.

Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro
Huggins Hospital has replaced virtually all mercury glass thermometers with electronic devices. The hospital hopes to replace mercury blood pressure units by 2003 and has already replaced a few units with aneroid systems. In addition, the hospital has established a goal of reducing the amount of mercury headed to landfills by 50%. The hospital is currently establishing a mechanism to determine what mercury-containing products are still being purchased and to evaluate alternatives. Huggins hospital plans to establish a hospital-wide policy for procurement of mercury-containing devices.

VA Medical Center in Manchester
The VA Medical Center's achievements include replacing all of its mercury thermometers with non-mercury and replacing 312 mercury blood pressure units with non-mercury (accounting for virtually all of their blood pressure units.) In addition, the VA Medical Center has replaced 98% of its light switch ballasts with non-mercury and non-PCB, and has also replaced over 3,000 of its high mercury content lights with low level mercury lights. Since 1993, the medical center has been collecting and recycling batteries and flourescent light bulbs. The VA Medical Center will continue to explore alternatives for mercury-containing equipment they still utilize.

Wentworth Douglass Hospital in Dover
Wentworth Douglass Hospital is being recognized for the second year in the Mercury Challenge program. It has eliminated 101 of its 114 mercury sphygmomanometers, removed all mercury thermometers from service, and removed 26 mercury containing esophageal dialators and replaced them with a tungsten version. In addition, the hospital held an employee thermometer swap which collected over 100 mercury thermometers. This year, the hospital also stopped the practice of sending new mothers home with mercury thermometers The hospital had already switched to low mercury flourescent light bulbs which are recycled. The hospital estimates that it is 86% mercury free and has set a goal of being 95% mercury free by December 31, 2001, a date two years earlier than the hospital originally projected in 1999.

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