Safer Chemicals: Mercury Elimination at MetroWest Medical Center

Benefits

  • Environmental benefit: elimination of mercury, a known potent neurotoxin
  • Additional benefit: reduced potential of worker exposure to mercury

The Problem

Mercury is a persistent, bio-accumulative neurotoxin that can adversely affect human health. Mercury is found throughout healthcare in clinical and facility devices, laboratory reagents, preservatives, dental amalgam, cleaning agents, electronics and fluorescent bulbs.

The Strategy Selected

MetroWest Medical Center had previously eliminated all mercury containing thermometers, sphygmomanometers and clinical devices and replaced with non-mercury items. In 2009 the Green Team established “virtual” mercury elimination as an annual environmental goal. An additional goal was for our 2 acute care facilities, Leonard Morse and Framingham Union Hospitals to apply for and receive the Practice Greenhealth Making Medicine Mercury Free Award in 2010.

Implementation Process

The Team:

  • Director of Facilities
  • Director of Materials Management
  • Director of Pharmacy
  • Director of Laboratory Services
  • Environmental Services
  • Green Team Co-Chairs

A Mercury Elimination Taskforce was formed. The taskforce followed the guidelines in the Making Medicine Mercury Free Award application and accomplished the following over a one year period:

  • Mercury Elimination Policy written including protocols for safe handing, clean up and disposal procedures, employee education and training and mercury free purchasing
  • Confirmation that all mercury containing thermometers, sphygmomanometers and clinical devices had been eliminated and replaced with non-mercury containing items
  • Use of low mercury lamps
  • Fluorescent bulb, electronics and battery recycling
  • Inventoried and permanently labeled mercury containing facility devices and established timeline for replacement with non-mercury containing devices
  • B5 and Zenker stains replaced with non-mercury stains
  • Inventoried mercury containing laboratory chemicals and pharmaceuticals
  • Implemented hazardous pharmaceutical waste management system including collection and proper disposal of mercury containing pharmaceuticals.
  • Bi-annual mercury thermometer exchanges held for staff and community

Leonard Morse Hospital and Framingham Union Hospital both received the Making Medicine Mercury Free Award in 2010.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Collaboration between the green team, facilities, pharmacy, environmental services and laboratory services was critical for the success of this initiative. We also received necessary support from clinical services, Quality and Safety Committee, Policy Committee, Environment of Care Committee and Nursing Education.

We maintain an up-to date inventory of mercury containing lab reagents and pharmaceuticals and will replace as mercury free replacements become available. Continuing education is essential to ensure proper handling and disposal procedures of any remaining mercury containing items.

Demographic information

MetroWest Medical Center is the largest healthcare system between Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts. The 269 bed regional healthcare system includes Framingham Union Hospital, Leonard Morse Hospital and the MetroWest Wellness Center, an outpatient diagnostic imaging and rehabilitation center.

The Medical Center offers a comprehensive range of services including:

  • 24-hour Emergency Department services at both hospitals.
  • Advanced cardiac care, including Primary Angioplasty, Cardiac Catheterization, and an Electrophysiology Service
  • High technology cancer care including radiation therapy services.
  • Extensive surgical services including minimally invasive and laparoscopic techniques, neurosurgery and bariatric surgery
  • Comprehensive maternity services with a Special Care Level IIB nursery.
  • A full range of behavioral medicine programs including child, adult, and geriatric inpatient units and partial hospital program services.