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As of March 1, 2011, the centuries-old mercury thermometers we’ve all used to take our temperatures will no longer be in production.
The retail sale of these thermometers has been banned in nearly 20 states since the early 2000s, but while you can still find them on some store shelves, once the supply runs out, there won’t be any new shipments coming in.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Environmental Protection Agency teamed up in the effort to stop production of these thermometers because of mercury’s high toxicity and its harmful affects on humans’ brains and kidneys.
"Due to elemental mercury's high toxicity, EPA seeks to reduce potential mercury exposures to humans and the environment by reducing the overall use of mercury-containing products, including mercury-containing thermometers," said EPA spokesman Dale Kemery.
Officials from the NIST expect the mercury thermometer will be officially obsolete within five years.
But it’s not simply the mercury thermometers we put in our mouths that are going out of style. “Mercury thermometers are also on their way out in a wide variety of industries, along with a long list of other measuring devices, thermostats and switches that rely on mercury components,” according to a report by Frank D. Roylance from the Baltimore Sun.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide that exposure to high levels of metallic mercury vapors can cause permanent damage to the brain, kidneys and a developing fetus. Brain damage can result in irritability, behavioral changes, tremors, changes in vision, hearing and memory problems.
Many manufacturers and other industries have moved away from mercury devices, either out of concerns about the hazards and costs of breakage and cleanups, or because they have found something better.
"Mercury is usually the least accurate of all current thermometers in the marketplace. Digital manufacturers have worked extremely hard to create products that work to meet the needs of end users, and usually better," according to Greg Strouse, leader of NIST's Temperature and Humidity Group.