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Mercury can Kill

s freely available in chemical markets, even in Delhi," said Ravi Agarwal, head of the Delhi-based environmental group Toxics Link.

"When a mercury thermometer breaks, the mercury spilled starts vaporising immediately in temperatures of 22-24 degrees Celsius. The vapours can be inhaled by anyone in the vicinity. It goes straight into the lungs and into the blood and the brain. It is very dangerous.

"In India, there is no awareness or precaution observed. In the West when a thermometer broke, they would close the room for two-three days and clean the place thoroughly," Agarwal told IANS.

"All over the world they have stopped using mercury and use only digital thermometers."

Asked what the proper procedure would be to clean spilled mercury, Agarwal said a syringe should be used to suck up the liquid under water, maintaining great care all the while.

"Just one gram of mercury is enough to contaminate a 20-acre lake and make the fish unfit for eating. That is the kind of toxicity of mercury. It is also very dangerous when people play with it, thinking it to be just a silver ball. It is absorbed into the skin and the blood," said Agarwal, whose organisation will join a large number of NGOs at the 24th United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council meeting Feb 5-9 in Nairobi to urge governments across the globe for a ban on mercury exports.

One of the key demands will be to call upon developed nations to provide new and additional funding towards mercury reduction in developing countries.

"We are pressuring the government and working with hospitals to switch over from mercury-based thermometers. Some hospitals in Delhi have already started using non-mercury thermometers."

A branded mercury thermometer costs around Rs.100, though cheaper ones are available that are prone to breaking or leakages. On the other hand, a branded digital thermometer costs around Rs.250,
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