April 2005

Mercury switch removal bill now planned by Arkansas

Washington— Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee made Arkansas history on March 8 when he signed the “Mercury Switch Removal Act of 2005.” This new state law establishes a program that requires mercury switches to be removed from end of life vehicles before they are crushed, or flattened, and shredded.

Automobile manufacturers are made financially responsible for the removal and collection of the switches, their transportation to mercury retorters, and the recovery of the gram of mercury each switch contains.

For nearly three decades, auto manufacturers used mercury in some light switches found in autos – particularly for switches controlling lights in the trunk and under the hood. 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 these mercury switches from vehicles prevents this mercury from being vaporized as the scrap metals from these vehicles are remelted and remanufactured. “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.

The Arkansas bill is based on a model developed by the Partnership for Mercury Free Vehicles (PMFV), a coalition made up of organizations including the Automotive Recyclers Association, the Ecology Center, Environmental Defense, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the Steel Recycling Institute and the Steel Manufacturers Association.

As in this new law, the PMFV’s model legislation requires automakers to take responsibility — including financial — for the safe removal for mercury containing light switches from end-of-life vehicles, prior to being shredded and recycled into new products.

Under the new 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.

The “Design For Recycling” provision in the bill is based on the same concept as the federal “Community Right To Know” program, which requires persons who store hazardous or toxic materials to disclose them, their amounts, concentrations, and locations. Under the new Arkansas statute, auto manufacturers must report to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality:

• A listing of all parts that contain mercury and design changes that have occurred to reduce mercury;
• Policies implemented to insure that vehicles are designed to be recycled in a safe, cost effective, and environmentally sound manner;
• A listing of all complaints and reports received by manufacturers within the past 12 months from vehicle recyclers, scrap recycling facilities, and government entities;
• Any facts and circumstances about which the manufacturers are aware that their vehicles contain components or are designed in such a way that present environmental risks that make it uneconomical to recycle the vehicles or components; and
• Design or manufacturing changes a manufacturer has implemented or is implementing to reduce or remove any environmental risks and the year in which design changes will eliminate the risk.

 


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