Millionth Mercury Switch Recovered from Junked Vehicles

WASHINGTON, DC, February 29, 2008 (ENS) – A national program that has cut more than one ton of mercury has reached a major milestone – one million switches have been removed from scrapped vehicles. The millionth mercury switch was removed through the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program, a collaboration among EPA, automobile manufacturers, steel makers, scrap recyclers, automotive recyclers, states and environmental groups.

“By pulling mercury switches before they enter the recycling system, we are improving the health of our environment and the health of generations of U.S. residents,” said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen
Johnson holds up the millionth
recovered mercury switch.
(Photo courtesy EPA)

Before model year 2003, some vehicles contained mercury switches for convenience lighting in hoods, trunks, and some anti-lock breaking systems.

On August 11, 2006, EPA announced the national program that the agency says will help cut mercury air emissions by up to 75 tons over the next 15 years.

For the program, 10 automakers created the End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corporation, which provides dismantlers with information and supplies needed for switch removal, collect and transport switches to proper recycling and disposal facilities before they are crushed and sent to furnaces that recycle the steel.

The goal of the program is to capture 80 to 90 percent of available vehicle mercury switches by 2017 when most pre-2003 vehicles are expected to be off the road and the program is scheduled to end.

Vehicles are the most recycled consumer goods in America, according to the EPA. Each year, the steel industry recycles more than 14 million tons of steel from old vehicles.

Most vehicles that have reached the end of their useful life are dismantled, stripped, flattened, shredded and melted to make new steel. If mercury switches are not removed from retired vehicles, that mercury is released into the environment as air emissions. These air emissions are considered a primary source of mercury that poses a risk to human health and the environment.

Mercury automotive switch removal is an easy, cost effective and energy efficient way to reduce emissions. Dismantlers can find and remove most switches in a few minutes. Doing so costs far less per pound of mercury than emission controls, and supports many industries that produce and use scrap metal. They earn $1 for each switch they recover.

Removal conserves energy and natural resources by promoting automotive steel recycling while reducing mercury contamination.

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

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