BOSTON -- The City Council voted to ban the sale of mercury thermometers Wednesday, joining a nationwide push to remove them from America's medicine cabinets as a threat to lakes and streams.
The mercury often enters the environment after the thermometers are incinerated or disposed of in landfills, health activists say.
The resolution, which passed unanimously, still needs approval from Mayor Thomas Menino, who has not taken a position on the measure.
"It's something that makes abundant sense to me, getting rid of something that is, frankly, toxic and shouldn't be in our homes," City Councilman Michael Ross said. "This simple step is actually an enormous step."
Boston's move is another blow to the mercury thermometer market. A growing number of cities have banned them. And many stores and hospitals have abandoned them in favor of digital thermometers that do not use mercury.
"Mercury is phasing itself out," said Tiffany Skogstrom of the activist group Health Care Without Harm.
For decades, the mercury thermometer has been associated with chicken soup and warm blankets. About 6 million mercury thermometers were sold last year.
But mercury is so toxic that one gram is enough to contaminate a 20-acre lake. The typical thermometer contains about 0.7 grams of mercury. Mercury can cause central nervous system damage and reduce intelligence.
According to Skogstrom, 17 tons of mercury from thermometers are incinerated nationwide per year, compared with more than 30 tons from batteries, fluorescent lamps and thermostats.
Becton, Dickinson and Co., the nation's largest producer of glass mercury thermometers, is focusing on its digital thermometers but still sells the mercury model, said Bette Leogrande, a product manager.
Many medical professionals consider the mercury thermometer "the gold standard," and it costs far less than digital brands, which range from $8.99 to $12.99, compared with as little as $3.87 for a mercury thermometer, she said.
"The trend definitely is to get away from the mercury," Leogrande said. "The only problem is that consumers have to have a low-cost alternative."
In June, New Hampshire became the first state to prohibit the sale of mercury thermometers. Cities such as San Francisco, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Duluth, Minn., also enacted bans this year.
Since August, 13 national store chains, including Wal-Mart, CVS and Kmart, have agreed to stop selling mercury thermometers.
"We realized the dangers involved," said Kmart spokeswoman Julie Fracker. "There's so many safe alternatives that are just as affordable, we decided to eliminate it."
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