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Thirteen Maine Hospitals among 47 in New England Recognized by EPA For Mercury Reduction Efforts

Release Date: 04/19/2001
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today recognized 47 New England hospitals - including 13 in Maine - 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 13 facilities leading the way in Maine."

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 Maine hospitals recognized as Mercury Challenge Partners for Change are:

Cary Medical Center in Caribou
Cary Medical Center's achievements include the elimination of all mercury thermostats, 30% replacement of all mercury containing sphygmomanometers with non-mercury units, and the elimination of over 80% of all mercury containing chemicals from their laboratory. The hospital is planning several additional mercury reduction activities over the next several years, including phasing out its mercury containing sphygmomanometers, recycling flourescent bulbs, and striving to replace all remaining mercury containing products and equipment with non-mercury suitable substitutes in 2002 and beyond. Since 1996, the hospital stopped the practice of sending new mothers and patients home with mercury thermometers.

MaineGeneral Health: MaineGeneral Medical Center, Waterville Campus, MaineGeneral Medical Center, Augusta Campus, MaineGeneral Rehabilitation and Nursing Care in Augusta, MaineGeneral Health Associates in Gardiner, Jackman Region Health Center in Jackman and HealthReach Network in Waterville
Mercury elimination is a systemwide initiative which encompasses all of MaineGeneral and its subsidiaries. MaineGeneral's mercury reduction achievements include replacing virtually all mercury containing blood pressure units and eliminating all glass mercury thermometers except a few in the laboratory. In addition, MaineGeneral discontinued the practice of sending patients home with mercury thermometers in 1999.

Maine Medical Center in Portland
Maine Medical Center was recognized under the Mercury Challenge program last year and this year it is continuing its mercury reduction achievements., including eliminating almost all of the hospital's mercury sphygmomanometers and about 90% of the hospital's manometers. This year Maine Medical Center also donated $1,000 worth of non-mercury thermometers to the City of Portland for a mercury awareness program. These accomplishments build on last years efforts which included eliminating the purchase of non-mercury blood pressure units, thermometers and other mercury containing devices where an acceptable alternative exists and expanding the hospital's existing battery recycling program.

Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft
Mayo Regional Hospital has replaced mercury thermometers with non-mercury units for patients. The hospital also will be replacing mercury light bulbs over time. This is a new area of awareness for the hospital. The hospital's overall mercury goal is to become mercury free and to ensure appropriate management protocols are in place if a substitute is not possible.

Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick
Mid Coast Hospital's achievements include evaluating trap sump drains and sewer lines for mercury content and replacing mercury containing devices with alternatives. The laboratory is also phasing out mercury containing chemicals and equipment. The hospital is recycling fluorescent lights and trialing other brands which are safer. The hospital had already eliminated mercury blood pressure units and mercury thermometers in 1992. Mid Coast Hospital's goal is to eliminate mercury that is technically and economically feasible to remove by 2003.

EPA is also recognizing Mid Coast hospital under the Partners for Change program for its many non- mercury waste reduction activities including the expansion of its recycling program to include newspapers, magazines and additional plastics. In 1998, the hospital purchased a pericetic acid sterilant system for items previously gassed with ethylene oxide (EtO) which has significantly reduced the usage of EtO. In addition, gluteraldehyde has been virtually eliminated from Central Supply and Reprocessing (CSR) and endoscopy. The hospital also hopes to work with its vendors to seek new markets for materials that are being landfilled like its surgical wrap which is 100% recyclable and almost sterile yet there is currently no market for the material. The hospital had already been actively reducing waste through using bulk paper products, using reusable drink cups, purchasing mattresses with built in "egg crates", using reusable bed pads purchasing toner cartridges with prepaid mailers for return and reclaiming x-ray silver. The hospital also recycles soda bottles and cans, tin cans and kitchen glass.

Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford
Southern Maine Medical Center has replaced over 50 mercury blood pressure units and eliminated mercury thermometers for patient care. In addition, all lab thermometers except one have been removed. The hospital is also finalizing the replacement of their fluorescent lights with T8 low mercury bulbs. Currently, Southern Maine Medical Center is exploring options to replace mercury pressure switches and water level switches. The hospital had already eliminated mercury weighted dilators in 1998 and stopped the purchase of mercury batteries over five years ago.

St. Andrews Hospital and Healthcare Center in Boothbay Harbor
St. Andrews Hospital and Healthcare Center achievements include eliminating most mercury oral patient thermometers, starting a mercury and alkaline battery recycling program, developing a fluorescent light recycling program and starting the phase out of its mercury blood pressure units. Last year the hospital sent seven pounds of mercury to be recycled. The hospital's next steps include seeking alternatives to the nine remaining mercury oral patient thermometers, continuing its phase out of mercury blood pressure units and looking for alternatives to mercury laboratory thermometers. St. Andrews Hospital is working in corporation with ME DEP, town officials, municipal waste plants and members of the community to hold a community awareness and thermometer collection program to help educate residents about mercury.

St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, Maine
St. Mary's Regional Medical Center has replaced of about 90% of its mercury sphygmomanometers, about 50% of its mercury thermometers and about 50% of its mercury esophageal dilators with mercury free alternatives, and plans on complete replacement of all units it 2001. The medical center has also been recycling all mercury flourescent lamps since May 1999. In addition, the medical center recycles all mercury batteries, the laboratory has eliminated the use of mercury oxide, and the medical center recently discontinued the practice of sending mercury thermometers home with new mothers.

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 athttp://www.epa.gov/region01/healthcare/mercurychallenge.html