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November 2007

Auto mercury recovery program now in 50 states

Mercury air emissions will continue to decline thanks to a voluntary national program to remove mercury-containing switches from vehicles headed for scrap. In its first year, more than 635,000 switches have already been removed from end-of-life vehicles. Collectively, those switches represent 1,400 pounds of mercury – more than the average coal-fired power plant emits in a year.

In August 2006, EPA and eight organizations representing states, nongovernmental organizations, steelmakers, vehicle manufacturers, automobile recyclers, and scrap metal recyclers launched a program to recover mercury containing light switches from end-of-life vehicles manufactured prior to 2002 before they are dismantled, crushed, shredded and melted to make new steel. Working with existing state switch-recovery efforts, the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Removal Program has the potential to recover 80 to 90 percent of available mercury switches, leading to commensurate reductions in air emissions.

The program’s primary first-year goal, which was enlisting all states to take part, has been achieved. A second goal for the first year, to develop a way to measure overall progress in the program in future years, has also been achieved. Progress will be measured by determining the percentage of switches recovered each year, compared to the number of available end-of-life autos from which switches can be recovered.

Approximately 5,900 automobile recyclers have already agreed to remove and recover the switches before sending vehicles to scrap recyclers, who in turn send the clean cars to steel mills. The mills can then use the cars to make recycled steel without worrying about releasing toxic mercury emissions.