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EPA Recognizes 47 New England Hospitals For Mercury Reduction Efforts

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 20 in Massachusetts - 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 20 facilities leading the way in Massachusetts."

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

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.
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

The Massachusetts Hospitals Recognized as Mercury Challenge Partners for Change are:

Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport
EPA is recognizing Anna Jaques Hospital under the Mercury Challenge program for its mercury reduction achievements including replacing 17 mercury sphygmomanometers in the emergency department, using low-mercury flourescent lamps, and holding an employee thermometer swap which collected 223 thermometers and 5 pounds of elemental mercury. Anna Jaques Hospital plans to look at all possible ways of reducing mercury and to work towards being mercury free by 2003.

Baystate Medical Center in Springfield
In it's second year of recognition under the Mercury Challenge Program, Baystate Medical Center's achievements include replacing 133 mercury containing blood pressure units with aneroid units and discontinuing the use of the mercury containing reagent B-5. This year the hospital also sent an additional 70 pounds of mercury out to be recycled for a total of 310 pounds of mercury since the Mercury Challenge program started in 1999. The hospital also continued to recycle its flourescent lamps. These accomplishments build on last year's efforts which included the removal of 700 mercury blood pressure units.

Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield
Franklin Medical Center is being recognized for the second year under the Mercury Challenge program.. This year the Center continued its mercury reduction efforts, including recycling flourescent lamps. The Center already eliminated last year virtually all mercury containing thermometers and blood pressure units hospital wide.

Mary Lane Hospital in Ware
Also recognized both last year and this year, Mary Land Hospital is continuing its mercury reduction efforts, including flourescent lamp recycling program in 2000. The hospital had already converted all of its mercury containing blood pressure units in 1999.

Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice in Springfield
The Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice achievements include the replacement of all mercury thermometers issued to nurses with electronic thermometers, the replacement of its mercury containing blood pressure unit with a non-mercury alternative, and establishing a fluorescent lamp recycling program. The association is now 99% mercury free with only one mercury thermometer kept for demonstrations.

Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington
Fairview Hospital has replaced all mercury filled blood pressure units with a mercury free alternative, replaced mercury filled esophageal dilators with a mercury free product, reduced the usage of nonessential mercury filled thermometers, and initiated a battery recycling program for the hospital. Fairview Hospital estimates that their mercury reduction efforts have already removed 75-80% of mercury facility-wide. Fairview Hospital goals are to develop a mercury purchasing policy to curtail the purchase of mercury products and to continue its quest to be a mercury free facility.

Hale Hospital in Haverhill
Hale Hospital removed 230 mercury sphygmomanometers and eliminated the use of mercury thermometers. During an employee thermometer swap to help educate staff about mercury, the hospital collected 346 thermometers and 2 lbs of elemental mercury. The hospital also sends zinc based thermometers home to new mothers rather than mercury thermometers. The hospital had already replaced its higher mercury content T-12 lamps with the low mercury T-8 lamps. Hale Hospital has pledged to eliminate all mercury from its waste stream by 2003.

Harrington Memorial Hospital in Southbridge
After being recognized under the Mercury Challenge program last year, Harrington Hospital continued its progress by eliminating the hospital's last 40 mercury sphygmomanometers, replacing mercury containing esophageal dialators with a non-mercury alternative, and using low mercury flourescent lights. These accomplishments build on last years efforts which included the elimination of mercury products in its pharmacy and elimination of many mercury containing products from the hospital lab.

Heywood Hospital in Gardner
Also participating in the program for the second year, Heywood Hospital's accomplishments include the replacement of surgical equipment containing mercury, additional reduction in the number of mercury blood pressure units and a new hospital policy prohibiting the purchase of mercury containing substances. These accomplishments build on previous years efforts which included eliminating the use of mercury thermometers and replacing 80% of its mercury blood pressure units. The hospital's overall goal is to become mercury free and to ensure appropriate management protocols are in place if a substitute is not possible.

Holy Family Hospital and Medical Center in Methuen
At Holy Family hospital, all mercury sphygmomanometers have been removed and replaced with a non-mercury alternative. In addition, Holy Family Hospital and Medical Center has phased out mercury patient thermometers except for its isolation patients. These accomplishments build on last years efforts which were also recognized by EPA through the Mercury Challenge. Last year's accomplishments included a flourescent lamp recycling program, the elimination of mercury oxide batteries and its employee mercury education program.

Lahey Clinic in Burlington
Lahey Clinic has already eliminated 18 blood pressure units and plans to phase out the remaining units over the next three years. They also held an employee mercury awareness program including a thermometer exchange with 750 thermometers collected. In addition, the hospital was able to eliminate mercury lab thermometers from the entire lab except one for calibration requirements. The hospital had already eliminated mercury esophageal dilators, mercury thermostats, mercury-containing reagents from laboratory procedures and has a program for recycling fluorescent light bulbs. Lahey Clinic has become dedicated to eliminating mercury from its facility.

Lawrence General Hospital in Lawrence
Lawrence General Hospital's achievements include replacing 74 mercury containing blood pressure units with aneroid units, with another 10 scheduled for 2001. In addition, the hospital held an employee thermometer swap in 1999 to help educate staff about mercury. During the thermometer exchange, over 200 mercury thermometers were collected and recycled. The hospital had already began recycling fluorescent light bulbs and had eliminated mercury patient thermometers. Lawrence General Hospital's overall goal is to be mercury free by 2003.

New England Medical Center in Boston
New England Medical Center is participating for the second year in the Mercury Challenge. Its continued accomplishments include purchase of electronic thermometers to replace mercury thermometers used in highly contagious places. In addition, the hospital established a new procedure for all miller abbott tube procedures that require mercury to help minimize potential for mercury exposure. Lastly, NEMC rented a mercury vapor analyzer to analyze past mercury impacts in all patient areas, utility rooms, laboratories, facility shops and other high risk areas. These accomplishments build on previous years efforts which included the elimination of mercury thermostats, mercury thermometers except for highly contagious patients and many mercury-containing laboratory chemicals.

System of Northeast Hospitals -- Addison Gilbert in Gloucester, Beverly Hospital in Beverly, BayRidge Hospital in Lynn, Hunt Center in Danvers and Cable Emergency Center in Ipswich
The System of Northeast Hospitals' achievements include replacing 230 mercury-containing blood pressure units, replacing 35 mercury-containing laboratory thermometers, converting to digital thermometers for patient care use, replacing four mercury switches at the power plant and discontinuing the use of mercury-containing laboratory compounds. The system has also has made two purchasing policy changes including an addendum to all purchase orders requiring vendors to disclose the presence of mercury in all products and a policy to purchase non-mercury equipment and supplies when clinically-acceptable. In addition, the hospital held a employee thermometer swap to help educate staff about mercury. During the thermometer exchange, 350 mercury thermometers were collected. All system sites are also converting to low-mercury fluorescent lamps as they are replaced. In 2000, the system recycled an additional 144 mercury-containing blood pressure units, 49 mercury laboratory thermometers, 1700 T-12 fluorescent lamps and 17.75 lbs of elemental mercury. The system hopes to finish its conversion of most mercury-containing equipment by 2003.

Shriners Hospital for Children in Springfield
EPA is recognizing Shriners Hospital for Children under the Mercury Challenge program for its mercury reduction achievements, including replacing all of their 65 mercury blood pressure units. In addition, the hospital has begun to recycle its flourescent bulbs. The hospital had already converted its patient mercury thermometers. The hospital also recycles its button batteries. The hospital is committed to phasing out the use of mercury and mercury-containing products wherever possible.

Wing Memorial Hospital and Medical Centers in Palmer
Wing Memorial is a second-year participant in the Mercury Challenge program. Its continued mercury reduction achievements include the replacement of all mercury switches in the boiler rooms, and developing a purchasing policy to buy products that are mercury free. These accomplishments build on last years efforts which included switching to low mercury flourescent lamps.