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New Jersey to Remove Mercury from Metals Recovery Stream
by Trish Thiel

An employee at PRO Auto Recyclers of Williamstown, New Jersey removes the mercury-containing electrical switch from a vehicle before the vehicle is crushed.

New Jersey is working to lower its mercury emissions from steel, iron and other industries. The first step this state is taking to accomplish this is to remove electrical mercury switches from automobiles before they end up crushed, shredded or in a steel smelter.

The state appointed the Mercury Task Force to review the sources and impacts of mercury pollution and to develop recommendations for reducing mercury emission and exposures. The task force started the study in 1998.

The task force determined that iron and steel smelters are the largest emitters of mercury in the state of New Jersey, followed by coal-fired power plants. The source of mercury is from scrap metal from autos and appliances containing electrical switches. The scrap metal is melted to extract reusable metal. This process releases the embedded mercury in those switches into the environment.

Mike Winka of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Environmental Technology said, "The task force discovered mercury from switches in cars is one of the state's largest contributors to mercury contamination when the cars are crushed, shredded, or the switches are burned at a smelter.

"While New Jersey wants to move forward with some sort of legislation where the production of these switches is reduced and regulated," Mr. Winka continued, "in the interim, they want to create a recycling partnership program to remove these switches before they become part of the recycling stream in which the mercury is released."

The first initiative the New Jersey Protection Commissioner Bob Shinn announced is the "Performance Partnership Agreement (PPA) for the Appliance and Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program."

This partnership is between the New Jersey Department of Environ-mental Protection (NJDEP), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the Association of New Jersey Household Hazardous Waste Coordi-nators, The New Jersey Chapter of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the Automotive Recyclers Association of New Jersey, mercury switch manufac-turer Comus International, and others. The group will develop and coordinate the establishment of the interim mercury switch recovery program.

Mr. Winka said, "We know that we need to get everyone in the same room together, the auto recyclers, the scrap metal recyclers, the auto shredder, the smelter, and the manufacturer. Part of this program is to have them work out how to run the new program and to establish the most effective and cost effective way to remove the mercury from the recovery stream."

The USEPA is putting $40,000 into the program and the others involved will match this with cash or in-kind services.

"This partnership is not the solution to the mercury problem, but it is something that will reduce emission until New Jersey can pass legislation," said Mr. Winka. "We knew that we needed to involve everyone. Each has a small amount of responsibility, but not total responsibility for removing the mercury. We realized that the more effective way to handle this situation was the way that New York and Massachusetts has set up their programs and had everyone committed to the removal of the mercury. We still need to contact the product manufacturers who install the mercury switches, but they have not been contacted at this point."

The task force looked to Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA) model rules when looking at dealing with mercury. NEWMOA has available draft mercury legislation which has examples of limits or bans on mercury use and disposal into the waste stream. NEWMOA also has examples of labeling for products that use mercury and overviews of mercury source legislation currently being looked at by other northeastern states.

New Jersey will mostly likely introduce legislation that reflects provisions in NEWMOA's Model Mercury Containing Production Reduction Act. These provisions would phase out the quantity of mercury in products and would ban from sale products that exceed the limits. Listed mercury-containing products would be banned from disposal. The mercury-containing product manufacturers would be required to establish and fund a program to collect and properly manage the existing inventory at the end of its life.

Mr. Winka said, "We have some product manufacturers who are making a commitment to stop the future use of mercury when there are other viable alternatives to use, but we still have products already produced in the consumer stream. We need to be able to handle this mercury until it is out of the consumer stream and the legislation has been passed."

One thing that New Jersey wanted this partnership program to do was be transferable to other states.

He said, "We realized that this is a program that needs to be interstate. We can't just be here in New Jersey. We want to develop something that can be implemented in other states and we would like other states to be able to do something similar. We want the ideas and technology to be transferred back and forth. We would like to see some sort of certification systems that note the switches have been removed and have these certificates be recognized by other states. We want other states to be able to do the same thing whether it's New York or Ohio or Pennsylvania."

The objective of the partnership program is to collect the mercury switches from end-of-life motor vehicles and from switches in appliances. This will be for a certain period of time from a group of facilities that represent the vehicle and appliance dismantling industry in New Jersey both in size and geographically. The goal is to collect data for the development of a cost-effective program to collect mercury-containing switches from these vehicles and appliances that maximize the amount of mercury that can be removed from scrap prior to its delivery to a scrap recycling facility for further processing.

The mercury task force made the following recommendations for New Jersey: participate in and support regional, national and global efforts to reduce mercury uses, releases and exposures; remove mercury from products; reduce emission of mercury from the production of electricity; significantly reduce air emission from coal combustion; significantly reduce air emission from iron and steel and other secondary smelting industries; ensure the minimization of mercury emission from other sources such as medical waste incinerators, sewage sludge incinerators, and municipal solid waste incinerators; expand and institutionalize routine monitoring for mercury in fish; actively encourage the federal government to initiate and maintain comprehensive monitoring and surveillance for mercury in commercial fish; expand and periodically evaluate the effectiveness of current outreach, advisory and education efforts; reduce exposures from cultural uses of mercury; develop comprehensive mercury budgets for New Jersey watersheds that include inputs from air deposition in order to develop appropriate total maximum daily loads; maintain and enhance all long-term air deposition monitoring systems; address critical information gaps; support the development of effective methods of retiring and sequestering mercury; develop improved environmental indicators; reduce mercury levels in fish and other biota; and provide for the implementation of the recommendations.


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