NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Doctors Fault New Blood-Pressure Cuffs Introduced for Environmental Reasons

June 18, 2002

The Environmental Protection Agency began working with the American Hospital Association in 1998 to eliminate as much mercury waste as possible from hospitals by 2005. Even though environmental and medical experts say medical devices containing mercury are not a major cause of such contamination, the word went out that cuffs which measure patients' blood pressure and which rely on mercury were on their way out.

Now many doctors have qualms that new cuffs designed to replace the old ones may be unreliable, inaccurate and lead to false diagnoses. Now the word is, don't junk the old cuffs until the new ones have been vindicated.

  • Anecdotal evidence from doctors suggests that erroneous blood pressure readings from the new cuffs have caused illnesses and even death.
  • Even the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute -- one of the National Institutes of Health -- have expressed their concern over the accuracy of the new cuffs.
  • Medical clinics and doctors' offices are also getting rid of mercury-containing batteries and thermometers.
  • The new cuffs must be returned to manufacturers every six months so they can recalibrated -- but experts say that is seldom done.

The mercury device, on the other hand, has long been the gold standard. If properly maintained, it can give accurate readings for decades.

Source: Gina Kolata, "Risk Seen in Move to Replace Gauge of Blood Pressure," New York Times, June 16, 2002.


Browse more articles on Health Issues