Mercury thermometer: a good doctor or epic disaster

May 10, 2018

Facebook users have raised the problem of recycling mercury thermometers: solution is found!

A mercury thermometer is a good and understanding doctor who would quickly measure the temperature and tell us what actions we do need to take. However, when a thermometer is broken, it turns into a detrimental enemy. More precisely, not itself, but the mercury’s fume. Mercury rolls out and breaks into small particles that are then find themselves in most inaccessible places of the apartment.

Do not panic when this happens! First, watch the video “What to Do if a Mercury Thermometer Breaks?”.

This video was made as a guide for everyone who faces such an unpleasant situation. The video became viral, accompanied with positive responses, the number of reactions and views, however, right on the first day, Facebook users asked us a rhetorical question: “And what to do next with a broken thermometer and collected mercury? Where should I put all this? Throw it into a dump or a sewer – it may be detrimental for the environment and other citizens.”

In the beginning there was a plan…

One of its goals was the withdrawal of mercury clinical thermometers and replacement by mercury-free alternatives in the pilot medical and prophylactic organizations in Bishkek.

1 October 2015, the plan was discussed among representatives of the pilot organizations of the Ministry of Health of the KR and the State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic jointly with the project staff.

The plan provided that all mercury thermometers would be properly packaged, marked and transported by a licensed transport to a temporary storage facility, where cosmetic repairs were done. In addition, personal protective equipment and a demercurization kit for an emergency have been purchased.

The Ministry of Health of the Kyrgyz Republic together with the project staff began to search for and develop solutions for the disposal and placement of mercury thermometers that had been removed from pilot clinics into a temporary storage. After long back and forth, a solution was found. In October 2016, the Ministry of Health of the KR and the Khaidarkan Mercury Joint Stock Company signed an agreement on the transportation and disposal of mercury-containing medical thermometers, with signing of an act on disposal.

Utilization of mercury-containing medical thermometers was held on 29 January 2018.

What happened to the mercury thermometers after they were transported to the Khaidarkan mercury plant? The technology of recycling consists of several steps.

Step One. Mercury thermometers are immersed into rotary ovens. These heaters serve to remove and restore mercury from waste.

Step Two. During firing, process gases are generated and pass through the dust-cleaning system and enter the condensation system, where the stupa is deposited in the condensers - metal mercury in mixture with dust, combustion products (soot) and water.

Step Three. Stupa (shredded slurry of fine particles and water) from the condensation is pumped into the mercury siphon. Ready mercury is dried with quicklime and poured into a special storage tanks.

Step Four. Transportation of all generated gases, starting from the heater, is activated by a forced ventilation exhaustion.

After passing through the entire process cycle, exhausted gases enter the central flue gas tube, where additional purification takes place (dust precipitation, mercury vapors trapping). Burned from the heater enters into special bunker, and then transported to the dump.

Of course, these stages can confuse us, but most importantly, there is a real example of mercury thermometers being withdrawn before they are disposed off in the health sector. This is now clear for many similar projects throughout the region, that collect mercury thermometers in the temporary storage and face the problem of their disposal.

The country is set to abide by the principles of “green economy”, therefore the question arises on introducing special payments for environmentally unfavorable products. These funds might be used to maintain infrastructure, collect and recycle wastes in the country.

In this regard, the country’s Parliament, together with UNDP, has is working on the draft law titled “On Amendments and additions to some legislative acts of the Kyrgyz Republic regarding regulation of import of mercury-containing goods.” This bill has already passed through public hearings in the cities of Bishkek and Osh( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFobkWaJSPMi ) in March this year, and if adopted, will aim to reduce the amount of harmful mercury emissions and establish processing of mercury-containing waste.

Zhyldyz Uzakbaeva, Project coordinator of UNDP-GEF “Protect human health and the environment from unintentional releases of POPs and mercury from the unsound disposal of healthcare waste in Kyrgyzstan”  

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