New Jersey Becomes Third State To Curb Mercury Pollution From Scrapped Vehicles
PRINCETON, NJ — In a landmark move, New Jersey will become the third state in the country to require the removal of mercury switches from cars, the nation's largest manufacturing source of toxic mercury.
The novel legislation, which requires automakers to pay for the removal of mercury switches from scrapped cars before they are melted down in steel mills and foundries, has already become law in Arkansas and Maine, and has been proposed in at least 6 other states. New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey signed the mercury switch legislation into law on March 24.
The law will prevent mercury in vehicles from escaping into the environment by providing vehicle dismantlers with a cash incentive to remove mercury switches from vehicles before they are scrapped. Auto manufacturers must reimburse the vehicle dismantlers and the state for removing mercury switches. Vehicle dismantlers will receive $2.00 per switch, and the state will receive 25 cents per switch to cover the cost of administering the switch removal program. The recycling of scrap vehicles in steel mills is the top source of mercury air emissions in New Jersey, and this bill provides a cost effective plan for addressing that source.
"Mercury switches create a serious health concern that also threatens to disrupt the most successful recycling program in North America," SRI President Bill Heenan said referring to steel's recycling record, which surpasses that of all other materials.
Mercury switches are the nation's largest manufacturing source of toxic mercury. Since automakers began installing mercury switches in autos over 30 years ago, particularly for switches controlling lights in the trunk and under the hood. The mercury from these devices has been released into the environment as vehicles are scrapped at the end of their useful life. While the use of mercury in these switches was banned in 2003, over 200 million autos containing these switches were produced between 1974 and 2003 using over 440,000 pounds of mercury.
Last year, over 7 million vehicles containing mercury switches were "retired" from the road. Removing mercury switches from vehicles prevents this mercury from being vaporized as the scrap metals from these vehicles is remelted and remanufactured. The auto industry used an estimated 197 tons of mercury in vehicle switches in the U.S. and continued to use mercury switches — saving only pennies per switch — for many years after promising to switch to mercury free alternatives.
The Arkansas bill was also a landmark bill, based on a model developed by the Partnership for Mercury Free Vehicles (PMFV). Under the Arkansas law, automakers must pay $5 for each switch removed and additional $1 per switch to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Protection for oversight of the program. The bill passed the Arkansas legislature with an overwhelming bi-partisan vote - only one member having voted against the bill. This legislation will also become the first law in the nation that requires auto manufacturers to report on steps taken to design vehicles and their components for recycling.
Other states, including Washington, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts are considering mercury switch removal bills.