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Gardner Residents Can Trade Old Mercury Thermometers
for New Digital Thermometers
June 18th – 22nd at Gardner City Hall

     During the week of June 18th through 22nd, Gardner residents can bring mercury fever thermometers to Room 29 at City Hall and exchange them for digital thermometers, free of charge. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday and Tuesday, June 18th and 19th, and 8 a.m. to noon, Wednesday through Friday, June 20th through 22nd.

     This thermometer exchange is intended both to remove mercury from the municipal waste stream and to educate Gardner residents about the potential hazards posed by mercury found in thermometers and many other common household products.

     The Gardner mercury thermometer exchange is sponsored in part by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA).

     “Fever thermometers are a common source of mercury in municipal trash. With thermometer exchanges like this one in Gardner, we can reduce the amount of mercury in the waste stream, and at the same time educate consumers about the need to be conscious and careful about the products they buy and how they dispose of them,” said Karen Thomas of the Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association (NEWMOA), who is helping coordinate the exchange.

     Exposure to mercury may cause a variety of health effects in people, and children and developing fetuses are particularly sensitive to its hazards. Depending on the level of exposure, mercury can cause damage to the nervous system, the brain, the kidneys, the liver and the immune system.

     In Massachusetts and elsewhere around the country, mercury is released to the environment in the emissions of coal-fired power plants, and municipal and medical waste incinerators. Many common household products – such as thermostats, fluorescent light bulbs, switches and button batteries – contain mercury. When these products are incinerated, land filled or broken, the mercury can pollute the environment. All of these products can – and should – be disposed of properly at household hazardous waste collections or by calling a licensed hazardous waste disposal company.

     But unfortunately, many mercury-containing products currently are tossed out with the household trash and end up in incinerators or landfills. Unlike many other pollutants, mercury does not degrade into something harmless once it mixes with the air or water. In fact, mercury persists in the environment for long periods of time, and bioaccumulates in animals and humans, meaning its concentrations and harmful effects only increase as it moves up the food chain. For this reason, fish consumption advisories are posted by the state Department of Public Health when tests show that fish in a particular lake, pond or river are contaminated with mercury and may be unsafe to eat.

     For example, tests have shown that fish in Waite Pond in Leicester have elevated levels of mercury and the Department of Public Health has advised that children younger than 12, pregnant women and nursing mothers should not eat any fish from this water body. The rest of the general public is advised to limit consumption of fish from Waite Pond to two meals per month.

     “We need to pay attention to fish advisories, and make sure we know that the fish we eat are safe,” says Thomas. “But even more importantly, we all need to do what we can to prevent mercury from entering the municipal waste stream in the first place. Participating in events like the thermometer exchange and household hazardous waste collections is a big part of the solution.”

     For more information about the Gardner mercury thermometer exchange, contact the Gardner Board of Health at 978-630-4013. For more information about the health and environmental issues posed by mercury in the environment, contact Karen Thomas at NEWMOA at 617-367-8558 ext. 304.

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Last Modified 01/09/2008

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