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Capital Times (Madison, WI.)
June 29, 200
COUNTY BOARD EYES BAN ON SALE OF MERCURY THERMOMETERS
By Lee Sensenbrenner The Capital Times
The thin glass thermometers that most everyone has held uncomfortably under
the tongue may soon disappear from store shelves in Dane County.
An ordinance that will go before the County Board next month prohibits the
sale of all thermometers that contain mercury, a toxic liquid metal that
has leached into fish in area lakes and has been linked to birth defects
and nerve damage in people.
The proposed county ordinance would only apply to stores that are outside
of a municipality. A resolution that accompanies the ordinance asks
municipalities, such as the city of Madison, to follow the ban, but does
not require it.
Three county committees have approved the ordinance.
Supervisor Don Heiliger, of the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee,
has so far cast the only vote against the ban.
He said he did not oppose stopping the sale of the thermometers, but said
the ordinance applies to too few stores and is a ''slap in the face to the
Supervisor Darold Lowe, also of the Public Protection and Judiciary
Committee, said he supported the ban because the pollution caused by
mercury is a regional issue best acted on first by county government.
If banned, the mercury thermometers would likely be replaced by
thermometers that electronically measure temperature.
These thermometers cost about $ 3 more, but are generally already
recommended over the mercury-filled thermometers, said Kevin Hoey, owner of
Door Creek Pharmacy in Cottage Grove.
''Banning mercury thermometers really wouldn't affect business,'' he said.
''Mercury is an extremely toxic material,'' said John Reindl, recycling
manager for Dane County Public Works.
''Without a ban on the sale of mercury thermometers, our efforts (to remove
mercury from the environment) will continue to fall behind,'' he said.
Reindl said that broken thermometers are the single largest source of the
mercury in the solid waste stream. The metal is not easily disposed of, and
when thermometers break at home the quicksilver is often put down the drain
or in the trash.
In either case, the metal likely will find its way into the water table, he
Two Madison area lakes have been affected by mercury levels.
The Department of Natural Resources has issued mercury advisories on Lakes
Monona and Waubesa, warning that some fish, notably large walleye, pose
health risks if eaten.
Removing the standard thermometers from the market is part of a nationwide
push to get mercury from the environment's waters.
The battery industry stopped using the metal in most applications over five
years ago. Many hospitals have stopped issuing mercury-filled thermometers
and some municipalities, including Duluth, Minn., have banned the sale of
the standard thermometers.
Mercury affects the human nervous system and can harm the ability to feel,
see, taste and move. These effects generally are reversible because the
body can rid itself of mercury over time, the DNR reported. In large doses,
though, it can be fatal, and fetal exposure to the metal has been shown to
contribute to birth defects.
-- Stephanie C. Davis - BFA, MPA Experienced Professional of Healthcare & Non-Residential Waste Programs
Waste Reduction Remedies sm A Multi-Waste Stream, Multi-Material Waste Management Company
1497 Hopkins Street #2D Berkeley CA 94702-1201 Telephone & Fax: 510/527-8864 Pacific Time E-mail: ScD18@WasteReductionRemedies.com
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