Doctors are urging parents to rid their homes of thermometers and other medical devices that contain mercury.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is warning parents that using mercury thermometers is dangerous since they can break and fumes from mercury can be dangerous to children.
The group issued a report on mercury in the July issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.
"The thermometers are generally safe and no problem to use, but if a child happens to swallow some mercury or inhale some then there is a potential problem," said Dr. Michael Shannon, of Children's Hospital in Boston and one of the report's reviewers.
Problem Could Go Unnoticed
The ability to contaminate a home environment or even a doctor's office is what concerns physicians. Mercury is a toxic element that affects the nervous system and may cause cancer and permanent brain and kidney damage. The liquid silvery metal may damage the stomach and large intestine. If it seeps out of a thermometer onto the carpet, floor or even into a vent its presence could linger without being noticed.
In children, significant exposure of mercury to the central nervous system can result in effects ranging from learning disabilities to devastating neurological problems including mental retardation, blindness and spasticity.
"The effects on the central nervous system are similar to lead poisoning effects," Shannon said.
Concerns over mercury in fish has received a lot of attention lately and the FDA recently sent out a warning to pregnant women saying they should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they may contain enough mercury to damage a fetus' nervous system.
Some doctors have recommended that women who are attempting to get pregnant should refrain from eating any shellfish and swordfish that contain high levels of mercury.
Concerns for Home
In the home, the primary concern for mercury is with thermometers and blood pressure devices whose cuffs may contain mercury.
"There are plenty of alternatives out there," Shannon said.
Alternatives for thermometers include digital thermometers, ear drum thermometers and blood pressure cuffs without mercury.
The report also mentions that physicians should be aware of cultural and religious uses of mercury. For some religious ceremonies mercury is used and even dispersed.
"You can actually buy whole bottles of mercury and people use it to sprinkle around a room or wear amulets made of mercury around their necks," Shannon said.
Physicians should be aware of such customs so they can better advise their patients, Shannon said.
He also recommends that people properly dispose of mercury containing products and devices. You can contact your local household hazardous waste collections to see how to dispose of your thermometers and other hazardous materials.