Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Silent Killer

MERCURY, although generally thought of as the gold standard for
measuring devices, is actually harmful to people’s health and the

Mercury causes tremors, emotional changes, insomnia, neuromuscular
changes, headaches, disturbance in sensations, changes in nerve
response and performance deficits on cognitive function tests. At
higher exposure, mercury damages the lungs and kidneys as well as the
nervous, digestive, respiratory and immune systems.

It has been called many names: from “the silent killer” to “the enemy
on your bedside.”

For more than five years now, the environmental-health group Health
Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia (HCWH-SEA) has been pushing for the
phase-out of mercury-containing devices in health care.

Mercury is found in thermometers, blood pressure devices, laboratory
chemicals, cleaners, and building products such as thermostats,
pressure gauges and switches. In households, there are
mercury-containing fluorescent lamps, merthiolate, contact lens
solutions and mercury-containing batteries.

Mercury is the silvery substance that people were once so fond of
playing especially in Chemistry classes. But the sad and dangerous
fact about mercury is it is lethal. One gram of mercury -- this is the
amount in one thermometer -- can contaminate 80,940 square meters of
lake or 192 professional basketball courts. And the effect is not
contained in one area, it travels from continents to continents.

Mercury’s effect is also “digital”, meaning it travels so fast. With
one click or one breakage, it is out there in the open, for everyone
to linger on and breathe.

In 2008, the Department of Health (DoH) issued Administrative Order
(AO) 21 mandating the gradual phase-out of mercury-containing devices
in health care by September 2010. The AO prioritizes phase-out of
mercury-containing thermometers and sphygmomanometers which have the
most amount of elemental mercury. The Philippines is the 1st
Southeast Asian country and the 1st developing country to have a
national policy like AO 21.

The DoH directive mandated all health care facilities to go clean
(malinis) and stink-free (mabango).

AO 21 is a jump-start. If we can rid our hospitals of all
mercury-containing devices, then we are a step towards malinis at

The other half of cleaning hospitals and making them malinis at
mabango and mercury-free is mercury importation ban. Such a ban has
been carried out in the U.S., European Union and Argentina. It can be
done in the Philippines.

In the private sector, several distributors of mercury-containing
devices are now moving to safer alternatives and even the big retail
stores like Watsons Personal Care are now mercury-free. Alternatives
to mercury-containing devices in health care are very much available
and have been proven accurate.

Even celebrities have made their stance clear on mercury phase-out.
The roster of celebrities supporting the campaign now includes actor
Albert Martinez, VJ Judah Paolo, Survivor Philippines Shaun Rodriguez
and DJ Papa Dudut.

At the Senate, Sen. Edgardo J. Angara pledged to re-file the Mercury
Reduction Act. It proposes a three-pronged plan: switch of
mercury-using products and processes to non-mercury alternatives,
control of mercury release and mercury waste management. The Act is
far more encompassing as it covers mercury used in toys, cosmetics and
apparel, health care, schools and universities, and other sources.

The health care sector may very well serve as a model for a massive
mercury phase-out and the Philippine case may be a good example to
showcase to the world.


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