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Mercury: Barometers

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many new barometers containing mercury are made each year in the United Kingdom; how many of them are for (a) scientific and industrial use, and (b) domestic use; what is the quantity of mercury used in each case; and how much of that is from recycled sources. [HL4647]

It is estimated that some 30 kilograms of mercury are used each year in the manufacture of new barometers in the UK. As a typical barometer contains 100 to 600 grams of mercury, this equates to the production of 50 to 300 new instruments annually. No further breakdown of these figures is available.

The only mercury mine in Europe, at Almaden in Spain, ceased extraction of ore in June 2001 and production of mercury from stockpiled ore in July 2003. It is not known how much of the mercury directly produced at Almaden is still available but, increasingly, mercury for new barometers will be available only from recycled material or from mercury imported into the European Union.

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Rooker on 25 June (WA 79), what process was followed and what parties were involved in the dialogue with the Government prior to the European Commission adopting its proposal for banning mercury barometers and thermometers. [HL4649]

The Government sought dialogue with stakeholders in the usual ways. An explanatory memorandum on the European Commission’s proposals was prepared and went through scrutiny clearance in both Houses. A public consultation on the Commission’s proposals was conducted in 2006. Details of the consultation, including a list of consultees, consultation documents and a summary of responses, are available on the Defra website.

In addition, direct contact by telephone and/or e-mail was made with:

each of the three companies in the UK that manufacture new mercury barometers for sale to the public;

a fourth company that provides parts, tools and supplies to barometer repairers;

scientists at the National Physical Laboratory regarding the scientific use of mercury measuring instruments; and

medical experts, regarding the use of mercury in blood pressure monitoring devices (sphygmomano meters).

The proposal will not ban mercury barometers and thermometers but will prohibit the sale of new instruments to the general public. Existing domestic devices, especially antiques, will still be able to be used, repaired and traded.