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Press release

Mercury thermometers soon to be museum pieces but derogation for barometers

Environment - 16-11-2006 - 10:20
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Parliament adopted a first reading report by 582 votes in favour to 17 against and 21 abstentions restricting the marketing of certain non-electrical measuring devices containing mercury. The draft directive outlaws the sale of certain measuring devices containing mercury. The directive would ban the sale of certain new non-electrical measuring devices containing mercury, as this metal poses a serious risk to health. The Council must now reach a common position.

By the present Directive only the placing on the market of new measuring devices should be restricted. This restriction should therefore not apply to devices that are already in use, or those which have already been placed on the market. Medical thermometers, manometers and sphygmomanometers (used for measuring blood pressure) would be affected by the ban.
Barometers not covered by the directive
MEPs adopted an amendment by way of derogation on the restrictions.  Parliament says the directive shall not apply to:
            (a) measuring devices that are more than 50 years old on [the date of the entry into force of this Directive]or
            (b) barometers. Member States shall establish appropriate and effective mechanisms for licensing and controlling the placing of them on the market in order to ensure that the objectives of this Directive are not undermined.
Parliament says that there still exists a small-scale production of barometers in the EU. These producers typically use only recycled mercury, function as a knowledge centre for the safe handling of this metal and are able to service and repair other mercury containing products. A ban on the use of mercury in barometers will lead to an increase of the amount of mercury found in household waste, as there will be no producers left to repair any broken instruments. 
MEPs also ask the Commission to take short-term measures to ensure that all products containing mercury and currently circulating in society are collected separately and treated safely.
Parliament says that with the aim of minimising the release of mercury to the environment and to ensure the phase-out of the remaining measuring instruments containing mercury in professional and industrial use, especially sphygmomanometers in health care, the Commission should carry out a review of the availability of safer alternative solutions that are technically and economically feasible. In the case of sphygmomanometers in health care, medical experts should be consulted to ensure that the needs in terms of diagnosis and treatment of specific medical conditions are adequately addressed.
Mercury and its compounds are highly toxic to humans, ecosystems and wildlife. Around 80-90% of all mercury used in measuring and control devices is used in medical (fever) thermometers and other thermometers for household use. Although use of mercury is declining, some 33 tonnes are used for measuring and control devices per year in the EU.
Mercury can change in the environment into methylmercury, which is its most toxic form. Methylmercury collects and concentrates in the aquatic food chain, making populations with a high intake of fish and seafood particularly vulnerable (e.g. in coastal areas of the Mediterranean). Direct exposure to mercury via the inhalation of vapour and absorption through the skin is also a health risk.
No deal at first reading
The Environment Committee had tried to reach a deal with the Council to ensure adoption at first reading, but this was rejected by the Parliament.  Next, the Council should reach a common position before it returns to Parliament for second reading.
REF.: 20061113IPR12525