Properties of Mercury
Elemental mercury (Hg) is a heavy, silvery metal that is liquid at room temperature. Mercury has the highest volatility of any metal, forming a colorless, odorless gas. The liquid droplet is very mobile and combines with other metals such as tin, copper, gold, and silver to form alloys (solid solutions called amalgams).
Mercury is not biodegradable and persists in the environment. When released into the air, it cycles between the air, l...read more
When mercury is spilled, it can break into very small droplets. These tiny droplets release invisible mercury vapor (see video on the right) at a rate faster than typical room ventilation can safely dilute. The vaporization rate of elemental mercury approximately doubles with every temperature increase of 10°C. Air that is saturated with mercury vapor at 25°C is a thousand times higher than the occupational exposure limit of 0.02 mg of mercury vapor per m...read more
Heath Effects of Mercury
The toxic effects of mercury are well known. Mercury vapor affects the central and peripheral nervous systems, lungs, kidneys, skin, and eyes. It also affects the immune system and is mutagenic. Acute exposure to high concentrations of mercury vapor causes severe respiratory damage, while chronic exposure to lower levels is primarily associated with central nervous system disorder, behavioral changes, and effects on the peripheral nervous ...read more
Mercury in Health Care
In a healthcare facility, mercury can be found in mercury-containing thermometers, sphygmomanometers, esophageal dilators, Cantor tubes, Miller-Abbott tubes, dental amalgam, batteries, UV lamps, fluorescent lamps, electrical switches, and in some laboratory solutions such as B5 and Zenkers fixatives and Thimerosal preservatives. Non-mercury alternatives can be found for many of these, including digital thermometers, aneroid sphygmomanometers,...read more
Minamata Convention on Mercury
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is an international treaty to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic releases of mercury and mercury compounds. The treaty was signed in Kumamoto, Japan in October 2013. Parties agreed to control and, where feasible, reduce the emissions of mercury to the atmosphere from sources such as coal-fired power plants, non-ferrous metal smelters, and waste incinerators. Parties als...read more
Resources on Mercury
The UNDP GEF Project on Global Healthcare Waste developed or helped develop the following resources on mercury:
- PowerPoint Presentation – “Mercury: Sources and Health Effects”: An annotated PowerPoint presentation on the properties, sources and health effects of mercury. Three versions: basic, with animation, and narrated PowerPoint presentations.
- Method of Measuring Mercury Levels in Ambient Air in Healthcare Facilities: A sample methodology to survey mercury concentrations in ambient air inside healthcare facilities.
- Technical Specifications for Mercury Vapor Analyzers: Technical specifications that could be used to procure portable analyzers for measuring mercury vapor in ambient air.
- Notes on Selecting Mercury Reduction Activities in Healthcare Facilities: Notes on options for mercury reduction such as replacing mercury thermometers and sphygmomanometers, dental amalgam, mercury-containing solutions, gastrointestinal tubes, electrical switches, and fluorescent lamps. An approach for prioritizing mercury reduction activities is presented.
- Guidance on Clean-Up, Transport and Interim Storage of Mercury from Healthcare Facilities: Basic information on mercury, detailed procedures for the clean-up of small mercury spills, requirements for temporary on-site storage of mercury waste at a healthcare facility, and considerations in relation to packaging, labeling, off-site transport, and intermediate-term storage at a central facility. Appendices include first-aid notes, a material safety data sheet and international chemical safety card on mercury.
- Guidance on Reducing Mercury Release From Dental Facilities: Overview of mercury releases from dental facilities, general recommendations for reducing mercury releases, and specific recommendations on chair-side traps, vacuum filters, and amalgam separators.
- Developing national strategies for phasing-out mercury-containing thermometers and sphygmomanometers: WHO Advisory Brief with technical input from the UNDP GEF Project presenting key considerations and step-by-step guidance on national strategies for a mercury phase-out.
- Comparative Evaluation of Non-Mercury Thermometers: Study by the UNDP GEF Project in Lebanon, Ministry of Environment, Nabatieh Government Hospital, and American University of Beirut. A vendor survey, costing model, and evaluation of accuracy were used to compare non-mercury thermometers in Lebanon.
- Replacement of mercury thermometers and sphygmomanometers in health care: WHO technical guidance that discusses available alternatives to mercury thermometers and sphygmomanometers, accuracy, costs, and technical specifications under international standards. Developed with technical support of the UNDP GEF Project and based in part on an earlier UNDP GEF Project guidance document.
- Guidance on Maintaining and Calibrating Non-Mercury Clinical Thermometers and Sphygmomanometers: General procedures for maintaining and calibrating common types of non-mercury thermometers and sphygmomanometers, with information on validation protocols and on setting up a maintenance system. Intended for users of non-mercury devices in healthcare facilities. Annexes include detailed accuracy testing, calibration and validation procedures intended for engineering departmentsread more