Marin County swaps mercury thermometers for digital during Earth Week

June 15, 2010

As part of Earth Week 2010, California pharmacies and the Marin Sanitary District collaborated to reduce household amounts of mercury, a toxic substance associated with damage to the nervous system, kidneys, liver, lungs, and immune system.

Key Points

In April, as part of Earth Week 2010, a unique partnership was formed between California pharmacies in Marin County and the Marin Sanitary District. The goal of this project was to reduce household amounts of mercury, a toxic substance that is associated with damage to the nervous system, kidneys, liver, lungs, and immune system.

This is a serious problem for pregnant women and children. Because their nervous systems are still developing, fetuses and young children are more at risk of mercury poisoning than are adults. To make matters worse, if disposed of improperly, methylmercury, a form of mercury, can end up in our waterways and eventually work its way up the food chain. In recent years consumption of fish contaminated with methylmercury has been linked not only to multiple organ damage but also autism.

The typical "fever thermometer" contains between 0.5 g and 3 g of elemental mercury. Five participating pharmacies throughout Marin County dispensed free digital thermometers to replace those made of mercury. These pharmacies were Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, Mill Valley; Ross Valley Pharmacy, Larkspur; Jack's Drug Store, San Anselmo; Marin Medical Pharmacy, Terra Linda; and Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, Novato.

As of October 2, 2008, 13 states including California had passed laws that limit the manufacture, sale, and/or distribution of mercury fever thermometers. The next step in this project is to propose laws or ordinances prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and/or distribution of these thermometers in Marin County. San Francisco already has adopted these steps.

Marin County residents have responded in record numbers by returning their old-style mercury thermometers, which are being replaced by the Water District with digital thermometers. Marin County, through its education awareness campaign for Earth Week 2010, has reduced the risk of mercury contamination to the local water supply and the bay, thereby contributing to a healthy Marin.

Fred Mayer is a licensed pharmacist, president of Pharmacists Planning Service, Inc. (PPSI), and a member of the Drug Topics editorial advisory board. Paul Larson is president of the Pharmacy Council on Environmental Education. Babak Fatirian received his PharmD, MPH, this month from Touro University School of Pharmacy and Public Health. For more information, write to ppsi@aol.com
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