Global Initiative to Eliminate Mercury from Medical Devices

Global Initiative to Eliminate Mercury from Medical Devices


A significant collaboration among the governments of Albania, Burkina Faso, India, Montenegro, and Uganda has been announced, focusing on a USD 134-million project aimed at eliminating mercury from medical devices to combat chemical pollution.

GS-03 (Environment)

Key Highlights of the Initiative to Eliminate Mercury:

  • Leadership and Funding: The initiative is spearheaded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and execution by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The project aims to mitigate the environmental and health impacts of mercury in healthcare.
  • Objectives: The primary goal is to phase out mercury-added thermometers and sphygmomanometers at a rate of 20% per year. This initiative is expected to enhance the lives of over 1.8 million people by improving mercury waste management and promoting safer alternatives.
  • Health and Environmental Impact: Medical devices such as thermometers and sphygmomanometers, which contain mercury, are generally safe when intact. However, breakages and improper disposal can release mercury vapor, contaminating air and water. Inhalation of mercury vapors poses serious health risks, including damage to the lungs, kidneys, and nervous system.

Understanding Mercury:

  • Nature and Risks: Mercury is a naturally occurring element found in the Earth’s crust and is recognized by WHO as one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern. It poses significant risks due to its toxicity and persistence in the environment.
  • Applications: Despite its dangers, mercury has been widely used due to its unique properties. It is found in traditional thermometers and barometers due to its high coefficient of thermal expansion and visibility. Additionally, mercury is used in various chemical and mining processes, including chlorine production and gold mining. Its conductivity and low resistance also make it valuable in electrical applications like mercury-wetted switches.

Minamata Convention on Mercury Pollution:

  • The Minamata Convention is a global treaty aimed at protecting human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.
  • The convention highlights the importance of controlling and reducing mercury use and managing mercury waste effectively to prevent its harmful effects.


This international effort to eliminate mercury from medical devices underscores a critical step towards reducing chemical pollution and safeguarding public health. By transitioning to safer alternatives and improving waste management, the initiative aims to create a healthier and more sustainable environment for future generations.