JULY 2010

Illinois increases mercury thermostat collection

The Illinois House passed the Mercury Thermostat Collection Act (SB 3346). This caps a three year effort to get both houses of the General Assembly to pass legislation that will improve the collection of mercury-containing thermostats used to activate heating and cooling equipment. The bill includes a ban on the disposal of the thermostats as well.

This year, the Illinois Environmental Council and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency joined with the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Sen. Heather Steans, the bill’s chief sponsor, to overcome the thermostat manufacturers’ opposition to previous legislation. The Mercury Policy Project provided invaluable support as well.

The breakthrough in the latest round of negotiations with the manufacturers came when their representatives agreed for the first time to meet annual collection goals and to become subject to new legal requirements if those goals are not met. For example, the Illinois EPA may require the manufacturers to start offering a $5 for each thermostat turned in as a way to increase collections.

Last year, the manufacturers collected 4,149 mercury thermostats under a voluntary program. This bill sets the collection goal for 2012 through 2014 at 15,000 thermostats for each year. The Illinois EPA may set higher collection goals for years after 2014.

Illinois enacted a ban on the sale and manufacture of mercury fever thermometers and novelty items in 2003. A ban on most mercury-added switches and relays in consumer products and a prohibition on mercury use in classrooms were passed the following year. Those laws were followed by a ban on the use of mercury as a preservative in pediatric vaccines (2005) and new requirements for the recovery of mercury-containing auto switches (2006). Illinois banned the sale and distribution of mercury-containing measuring devices and thermostats in 2007. Most recently, the General Assembly passed a ban on mercury-containing weights used to balance vehicle wheels.