Nurses' union breaks silence on mercury hazard


Nurses' union breaks silence on mercury hazard

By Paul Jones

The June issue of the Australian Nursing Federation's journal, the Australian Nursing Journal, (carries a full page article by Dianne Lacroix titled "The danger of mercury spillage from sphygmos" (sphygmos are blood pressure recording machines).

Lacroix's article is overdue acknowledgment by the ANF of an obligation to its members. The ANF offers no reason for its sudden involvement, but inside sources say that they were influenced by the February 15 GLW article "Mercury spill at hospitals covered up by unions".

The ANJ article is written on behalf of the "Nursing the Environment" group, the effect of this imprimatur being to confine discussion of the link between health and the environment to "special interest".

According to Lacroix, her article was prompted by a letter from Phil Colquitt published in the February 11 issue of New Scientist, which condemns the use of mercurial instruments and brings into question their legality. It has been over a year since Colquitt first reported mercury spillage at Royal Brisbane Hospital (RBH), and in that time little has changed.

In 1970 the US Department of Interior took legal action against Chesborough Ponds Inc for discharging 1.5 pounds of mercury per day into the Black River to Lake Ontario. This known polluter now makes the thousands of mercurial thermometers used at RBH at its offshore plant in India.

The ANJ article recommends that members discuss the issue with their workplace health and safety officer (WHSO). The RBH experience, however, shows this to be useless — legislation requires a WHSO for workplaces with 30 or more employees, yet the ratio at RBH, Queensland's largest employer, is 1:4500.