December 2004

Plan Should See 600 Pounds of Mercury Recycled in Two Years

Harrisburg, PA— On behalf of Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell, Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty launched a new partnership with scrap dealers, the automotive-recycling industry and environmental groups to recycle 600 pounds of mercury in the next two years in Pennsylvania through the removal of mercury-containing switches in salvaged cars.

During a demonstration of the switch-removal process, Secretary McGinty signed a Memorandum of Understanding with AERC Recycling Solutions, Bethlehem Apparatus Co. Inc., the Clean Air Council, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the Pennsylvania Automotive Recycling Trade Society and the Steel Recycling Institute to implement the Pennsylvania Mercury Automobile Switch Removal Program.

“Today marks a major accomplishment in efforts to ensure a cleaner, healthier environment in Pennsylvania,” Secretary McGinty said.

Mercury-containing switches from automobiles represent the second-largest airborne source of mercury in Pennsylvania. The switches were installed for convenience lighting in the trunk, hood and other interior areas of automobiles, as well as in anti-lock braking systems, prior to phase out in 2003 models. If mercury-containing switches are not removed before automobiles are recycled, the mercury is emitted into the air during the smelting process and, through deposition, ends up in waterways. In the environment, mercury is transformed into methylmercury, which accumulates through the food chain.

Once mercury enters the environment, it can remain as an active toxin for more than 10,000 years. This endangers pregnant women, children, subsistence fishermen and recreational anglers who are most at risk for health effects that include brain and nervous system damage in children and heart and immune system damage for adults.

The Memorandum of Understanding, which has been under development for nearly a year, ensures that training is provided for the safe removal of the mercury switches; a system is in place for the safe storage and shipping of the recovered mercury switches; and the recovered mercury is recycled in a responsible manner to produce only essential products. The effort is expected to recycle 600 pounds of mercury in the next two years.

DEP will be responsible for the overall establishment, funding and administration of the two-year program. The department’s costs of $341,000 over two years will include shipping informational materials, training and incentives to recyclers. Program partners will finance other costs, including mercury recycling and outreach to automotive recycling facilities. These efforts will be funded by each of the program partners, either through financial or in-kind contributions.

In addition to this action, the Rendell administration is calling for tougher national mercury rules. Pennsylvania and 10 other states joined together June 29 to formally oppose the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed mercury emissions reduction rule for backing away from minimum requirements in the federal Clean Air Act and slowing the timetable to achieve significant reductions of the highly toxic pollutant. A final decision by EPA is expected in March 2005.

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