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June 2006

Illinois begins mercury thermostat collection

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) director Doug Scott announced a new initiative to expand the collection and recycling of climate control thermostats that contain mercury switches.

The new collection initiative will expand the availability of current recycling opportunities for mercury thermostats. Long-term household hazardous waste collection sites in both Rockford and Naperville have agreed to collect and recycle mercury thermostats through an industry take-back program. This will provide two drop-off locations in Northern Illinois for homeowners or “do-it-yourselfers” that purchase replacement thermostats.

The Product Stewardship Institute, Inc. (PSI), a national organization that seeks to reduce environmental impacts from consumer product and the Thermostat Recycling Corp. (TRC), a non-profit entity created by Honeywell, White-Rodgers and General Electric, will administer the five-state pilot project. The pilot will run through the end of the year in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington State, and Florida.

Until now, the take-back program has only been available to thermostat wholesalers. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) contractors can drop off mercury thermostats at participating wholesaler locations when they purchase new thermostats or other supplies. The new initiative will allow homeowners to recycle thermostats that they replace on their own by taking them to a long-term household hazardous waste facility. TRC will provide the containers and pay for shipping costs to a commercial mercury recovery facility.

The Illinois EPA estimates that somewhere between 88,000 and 132,000 mercury thermostats are disposed of annually in Illinois. Forty-four thermostat wholesale stores are participating in the industry take-back program. In 2004, these wholesalers collected over 5,000 mercury thermostats for recycling throughout the state.

The typical mercury thermostat contains three grams of mercury that can be released into the environment if the thermostat is broken or disposed of improperly. The mercury is used as a component of a mechanical tilt switch, which activates the heating and cooling equipment connected to the thermostat. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that 63 million mercury-containing thermostats are in use within the United States, containing approximately 230 tons of mercury.

Governor Blagojevich announced plans to aggressively cut mercury emissions from Illinois power plants by 90 percent by mid 2009. These state standards will go far beyond the federal Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) restrictions adopted last spring and would make Illinois a national leader in efforts to reduce toxic emissions into the environment. The proposed rules were filed March 14th with the Illinois Pollution Control Board.

For information on the program, visit www.epa.state.il.us.


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