| STRASBOURG, France
STRASBOURG, France Tapping a barometer to check
the weather may become a thing of the past after the European
Parliament on Tuesday adopted new rules to scrap the use of
mercury and protect the environment.
The European Union assembly agreed to ban the sale of
non-electrical instruments containing the toxic heavy metal,
such as thermometers for taking people's temperatures at home.
The ban, already endorsed by EU states, will apply to new
devices only. Existing instruments or antiques can still be
repaired or bought and sold second-hand.
Measuring devices containing mercury may be imported if
they are more than 50 years old and therefore classified as
antiques. Mercury, liquid at room temperature and pressure, has
been used in instruments for hundreds of years.
There are exemptions for the healthcare sector.
An earlier attempt to exempt barometer makers was dropped
after opposition in some EU states. Manufacturers will be given
a two-year grace period.
The measure is part of a wider EU strategy to crack down on
the use of mercury. Around 80 to 90 percent of all mercury is
used in medical and other thermometers for household use.
EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said the rules
will come into force soon and reduce the bloc's mercury
emissions by 33 tonnes a year.
Thermometers alone account for 25 to 30 tonnes, for which
there are now non-mercury alternatives, he said.
Philip Collins of Barometer World in Devon, England, said
the measure would harm the environment.
"It's chiefly barometer makers who are in a position to
advise customers about handling mercury. In the short and
medium term it will produce more indiscriminate dumping of
mercury barometers," said Collins, who is also secretary
general of the British Barometer Makers Association.
British centre-right lawmaker Martin Callanan said
appropriate safety warnings could have allowed barometer
production to continue.
"This ban brings to an end the tradition of barometer
making which was begun in the mid 1600s when mercury barometers
were first introduced," Callanan said.
There are about 8 barometer makers in Europe, including
three in Britain, one in Belgium and France, and two in the
Netherlands, Collins said.
"Although repairs are not directly threatened, some makers
won't survive," Collins said, adding the reform will trim
turnover but not threaten his business.
The European Commission will review safer alternatives for
mercury-containing instruments for taking blood pressure.