Mercury Thermometer Exchange Program

State: OH Type: Model Practice Year: 2007

The Mercury Thermometer Exchange Program targets residents within the City of Columbus with mercury thermometers to be recycled. This practice the issue of removal of mercury as a toxic substance and potential household contaminant from the home environment. The objectives of the practice include: To raise awareness within the general public about the hazards of exposure to mercury as a toxic substance; To educate public about mercury in the home environment during the fall flu immunization campaign; and To collect mercury thermometers for recycling or provide a local neighborhood option for the collection/recycling of mercury thermometers at any time.
The mercury in home mercury thermometers represents a significant risk of exposure to toxic mercury vapors if broken in the home. There have been numerous incidents well publicized in the community of mercury spills in homes and schools. The health effects plus the difficulty and significant expense of cleanup of mercury places a high public value on the prevention of spills. The wide public distribution and broad use of home mercury thermometers represents the single biggest source of mercury exposure in the home. Providing a regular exchange network and raising public awareness about the reasons to exclude mercury from the home will reduce the need for emergency remediation. The idea of a Mercury Thermometer Exchange program in public health is not new. What is an innovation in this program's approach is the co-promotion of fall flu immunizations, mercury thermometer exchange and Flu Readiness as an incentive for heightened public awareness and participation. There is traditional high demand for flu immunizations and low awareness of the importance of mercury exchange. By co-promoting the two issues the program was able to build awareness of the concern about Mercury in a season of the year when flu, fever and thermometers are in the public mind. The elegance of the campaign was to combine the two issues to raise the awareness and to prompt behavioral change to protect the public health.
Agency Community RolesDifferent divisions within a large municipal health department tend to be compartmentalized and have limited opportunities to collaborate. The Divisions of Environmental Health, Chemical and Physical Hazards Unit and Project L.O.V.E. within the Division of Infectious Disease, and Office of Emergency Preparedness, Pandemic Influenza Section formed the central partnership for the project. The planning for the project brought in the Franklin County Board of Health, and the Adult Immunization Coalition of Central Ohio. Later the City of Columbus Department of Human Resources opened their immunization clinics to include the large city employee group in the exchange campaign. Each of the partners shared materials development, media and communications, mailing and outreach listings and all donated in-kind staffing to carry out the campaign. This broad coalition open up resources and existing public efforts to a much larger audience than would have been possible by any partner acting alone.  Costs and ExpendituresFunding sources included: Columbus Public Health (CPH), Columbus Department of Public Utilities, CPH Office of Emergency Preparedness, CPH Project Love. In-kind support was provided by: Ohio Department of Health, United HealthCare, WCMH TV-4, Clear Channel Communications. The costs of the program included $9,700 in direct costs and $25,500 in indirect costs. ImplementationA coalition between the Columbus Public Health, Division of Environmental Health, Project Love and the Adult Immunization Coalition of Central Ohio (AICCO) was formed to co-promote Mercury Thermometer Exchange during the fall flu shot immunization clinics. A media campaign was designed to raise general awareness connecting Flu Readiness and removal of Mercury from the home environment. The media outreach campaign utilized public service announcements through the local WCMH-TV4 sponsor, a combined immunization/mercury thermometer exchange during their Health Expo which attracted 10,000 participants, and a community billboard outreach publicizing a series of five community-based immunization clinics/exchange sites sponsored by the coalition during October, November and December. Additionally, the exchange campaign was invited to join all of the City of Columbus flu immunization clinics which reached a total of 1650 city employees. For all of these events a FluReady Kit was developed and promoted to create an incentive for participation. The kits included Digital Thermometers, hand sanitizer, soap, facial tissues, and a bottle of water. Information was included in the Flu Ready Kits to publicize the danger of mercury in the home environment and to encourage further mercury thermometer exchange opportunities by promoting the existing permanent drop-off locations for mercury thermometers at 26 fire stations throughout the county. This campaign continues year round.
Objective 1:To enhance the materials in the existing Mercury thermometer exchange Program.  Performance Measure: Materials drafted to create a identifiable public brand for the campaign.Objective 2: Create a single campaign that would promote Mercury Exchange at a time when the public thinks about thermometers.  Performance Measure: Linking the Flu Immunization clinics and the mercury thermometer exchange program. Objective 3: To build and strengthen relationships with public health constituents.  Performance Measure: To involve all prinicipal mercury exchange and immunization partners and broader the partnership to create the media strategy.
By plugging into existing public efforts, fall immunization clinics and the permanent network of mercury recycling locations this is a campaign that will be able to duplicate and sustain in successive years. Each of the partners had a very positive experience in terms of the shared resources and revenues and in-kind contributions that could be leveraged. With a very limited budget the program was able to reach a very large county-wide audience.