New Program Designed To Remove Mercury-Containing Light Switches From Scrap Vehicles

On Aug. 11, EPA announced a national program that is designed to remove mercury-containing light switches from scrap vehicles before the vehicles are flattened, shredded, and melted to make new steel -- an initiative that could help cut mercury air emissions by up to 75 tons over the next 15 years.

Although the U.S. automobile industry halted use of mercury-containing light switches in 2002, an estimated 67.5 million switches are currently in use in older vehicles and available for recovery. Each year, the steel industry recycles more than 14 million tons of steel from scrap vehicles, the equivalent to nearly 13.5 million new automobiles, making vehicles the most recycled consumer product and the steel industry one of the largest consumers of recycled materials in the world.

Together with existing state mercury switch recovery efforts, this National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program will significantly reduce mercury air emissions from the furnaces used in steel making -- the fourth leading source in the United States after coal-fired utility boilers, industrial boilers and gold mining, officials said. Under the program, automobile dismantlers will remove the mercury-containing light switches from scrap vehicles prior to the vehicles being flattened and then shredded at scrap recycling facilities. The program also will provide a financial incentive for those who remove mercury switches.

The National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program is the result of a two-year collaborative effort involving EPA, the End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corp., the American Iron and Steel Institute, the Steel Manufacturers Association, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), the Automotive Recyclers Association, Environmental Defense, the Ecology Center (Ann Arbor), and representatives of the Environmental Council of the States.

Calling it "a new model for industry cooperation toward environmental protection," ISRI Chairman Frank Cozzi hailed the establishment of the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program.

"While many will recognize this agreement for its success in mercury reduction, it is important to also recognize the monumental effort it took to get us here today," Cozzi said. "The EPA's administrator and staff have worked hard to bring everyone involved in the auto recycling chain to the table and harder still to forge a cooperative agreement that truly has a chance of making progress on this tough issue."

According to EPA, 10 automakers created the End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corp. (ELVS), which will provide dismantlers with information and supplies needed for switch removal, collect and transport switches to proper recycling and disposal facilities, and track program performance. Information about the program and its participants will be made available on the ELVS Web site at http://www.elvsolutions.org. All of the program partners have agreed to regularly review the data and use it to make any necessary improvements.

Additional information on the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program can be found at http://www.epa.gov/mercury/switch.htm.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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