Mercury in health care devices to be banned – DoH (Philippines)

Manila Bulletin, 17 June 2008

17 June 2008 - The Department of Health (DoH) said yesterday it is set to release an administrative order (AO), imposing a total ban on the use of mercury-based sphygmomanometer, a device used to check one's blood pressure, and thermometer, a device used to check one's temperature.

The AO arises from a global call on the phaseout of medical devices using mercury, a dangerous substance, said Dr. Edwin Sanchez, director of the National Center for Health facilities and development.

In an interview, Sanchez said consultative meetings on the issue are ongoing among officials of the DoH, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), National League of Government Nurses (NLGN) and the Private Hospitals' Association of the Philippines (PHAP).

He said health officials are targeting the release of the AO before the end of this year, adding that alternatives for mercury- based sphygmomanometers and thermometers are already available in the local market.

International non-government organization Health Care Without Harm has warned the public on the significant adverse impacts of mercury on human health and the environment.

Health Care Without Harm, composed of 473 coalitions in 50 countries, warned that elemental mercury transforms into a gas, endangering workers in hospitals and other health facilities when they are exposed to potentially highly toxic levels.

"If discarded as a waste, mercury will eventually make its way into the environment where organisms living in rivers, lakes, or moist earth transform it into highly toxic organic mercury. This type of mercury which affects the nerves and brains at extraordinary low levels persists and accumulates in animals, fish, and the global environment," the NGO said.

Sanchez said DoH-retained hospitals will include the procurement of alternative devices in their budget next year.

"We are aiming for a gradual elimination of mercury-based sphygmomanometers and thermometers. It cannot be done abruptly," he said.

Local toxicology experts warned that mercury, once inhaled, targets the lungs and causes destruction into other organs in the body, including the brain. Because of this, the patients may experience difficulty in breathing, eye and skin irritation, and rhinitis or the inflammation of the nasal lining triggered by strong smells and other irritants.

Mercury is a natural element which is usually odorless and silver in color. Researches indicate that mercury is dangerous if large amounts are ingested or applied to the body for a long period of time. It can cause abdominal pain, burn, or tissue death in the throat and even kidney failure.

After the consultation meetings of government agencies concerned, the DoH will begin a separate consultation meeting with stakeholders and local government officials informing them of the change in the requirements of local hospitals on the use of medical devices, Sanchez said.