Albertson's (Boise, Idaho) has decided to stop carrying mercury thermometers, that vestige of 20th century healthcare, on the shelves of their 2500 stores in 36 states. "There was a time when mercury thermometers were all we had," said Pam Powell, Albertson's group vp marketing. "Now we have options that are economically feasible, effective and environmentally friendly."
Albertson's says its decision was prompted by a coalition called Health Care Without Harm, a collaborativecampaign of 270 organizations in 24 different countries working to eliminate pollution from health care practices. "Many consumers don't realize that mercury is a neurotoxin," according to Jamie Harvie, coordinator of the group's campaign to banish mercury from health care. Pregnant women, infants and young children are said to be especially vulnerable to the effects of mercury, which enters the environment when mercury-containing waste is burned or dumped into the sewage treatment system.
While it may seem that mercury fever thermometers are but a drop in the bucket in terms of mercury pollution, Harvie contends that mercury thermometers are the largest source of mercury in the solid waste stream. "One gram of mercury is enough to trigger fish consumption advisories in a lake with surface area of 20 acres," he said, noting that a typical home mercury fever thermometer contains seven-tenths of a gram. Furthermore, poison control centers field approximately 18,000 phone calls every year about broken mercury thermometers.
Along with pulling mercury thermometers from their shelves, Albertson's is undertaking an educational ad campaign. To properly dispose of mercury thermometers, Albertson's is encouraging customers to take them to a household hazardous waste collection facility. Many state or local agencies operate these facilities as permanent or seasonal collections.