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Ed Yeates Reporting...Take a last look at the old mercury fever thermometers. The EPA, health agencies and local pharmacies around the country are about to dispose of the familiar glass tubes. They plan to get consumers to trade in the old ones for new digital thermometers.
The Utah Poison Control Center gets about 175 calls per year now from people reporting broken thermometers.
Martin Caravati, M.D./Utah Poison Control Center: "SWALLOWING THE MERCURY ITSELF IS NOT THAT BIG OF A PROBLEM. IT'S ACTUALLY MORE DANGEROUS WHEN SPILLED ON CARPET AND IS VAPORIZED AND IS INHALED."
A single thermometer contains only point five to one gram of mercury. But nationally that adds up to 17 tons of mercury.
Martin Caravati, M.D./Utah Poison Control Center: "YOU THROW THESE IN THE TRASH. IT ENDS UP IN THE LANDFILL. THEN IT ENDS UP IN THE GROUNDWATER - AND THEN ENDS UP IN FISH AND THEN THAT'S HOW MOST ADULTS GET EXPOSED TO MERCURY."
Mercury poisoning can cause a loss of hearing, vision and coordination.
Dagmar Vitek, M.D./Dir., Salt Lake Valley Health Dept.: "WITH LONG TERM EFFECTS, YOU CAN SEE NERVOUS SYSTEM DAMAGE OR KIDNEY DAMAGE OR MULTIPLE PERSONALITY CHANGES."
For these worries and more - Salt Lake Valley Health, the Utah Poison Control Center and Smith Pharmacies want to exchange the thermometers.
Ed Yeates, Eyewitness News: "THIS IS HOW THE TRADE WILL WORK. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS BRING IN YOUR OLD MERCURY THERMOMETER INSIDE A SEALED PLASTIC BAG. ONCE GIVEN TO THE PHARMACIST, HE'LL PLACE IT INSIDE THIS RED HAZARDOUS WASTE BOX. IN RETURN, YOU GET A 50% OFF COUPON FOR THE PURCHASE OF A NEW DIGITAL THERMOMETER."
Old thermometers will be taken to the Salt Lake County Landfill's Hazardous Waste Unit.
Dorothy Adams/Salt Lake Valley Health Dept.: "THERE THE MERCURY THERMOMETERS WILL BE COLLECTED AND THE MERCURY IS ACTUALLY RECYCLED.
Recycled -- NOT buried or incinerated.