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Pennsylvania Debuts Thermostat Recycling to Lower Mercury Risk

PAOLI, Pennsylvania, December 18, 2008 (ENS) – That thermostat on the wall that allows residents to control the temperature of their rooms contains the deadly neurotoxin mercury. But fewer Pennsylvanians will face mercury exposure now that Pennsylvania’s new Mercury-Free Thermostat Law is in place, say state environmental regulators.

“This law is another means of protecting the health and welfare of our most vulnerable citizens – our children,” said Tom Fidler, the Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for waste, air and radiation management. “Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that poses the greatest risk of nerve and brain damage to pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and young children.”

At The Hardware Center in Paoli, Fidler today unveiled a statewide recycling program that will allow people to safely dispose of out-of-service thermostats containing mercury.

“In Pennsylvania, we are working to protect our citizens from all sources of mercury. From enacting the Clean Air Mercury Rule for power plants to making thermostat recycling more convenient, we are going to take all reasonable measures to protect Pennsylvania’s children,” he said.

Mercury can pose a long-term danger as it accumulates in the environment and remains active for up to 10,000 years. Waterways throughout Pennsylvania have been placed under fish consumption advisories due to high mercury contamination levels.


Inside of an old thermostat showing mercury
in glass tube (Photo by Bob)

Mercury thermostats contain the largest amount of mercury found in ordinary household products. A single mercury thermostat contains between three and five grams of mercury.

According to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, each year six to eight tons of mercury from discarded thermostats ends up in solid waste facilities and between one and two tons are released into the air.

“Protecting our citizens and environment from mercury can be accomplished in partnership with industry,” Fidler said. “Governor [Ed] Rendell’s administration worked with thermostat manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and installers, and the legislature to craft a cost-effective program that shares the responsibility for protecting the environment.”

The Mercury-Free Thermostat Law, effective December 8, 2009, bans the sale, installation and disposal of mercury thermostats.

The law requires that thermostat manufacturers establish and maintain a collection and recycling program for out-of-service mercury thermostats;

Wholesalers who sell thermostats must participate as a collection site for mercury thermostats.

Thermostat retailers or contractors must participate as a collection point or provide notice to customers that recycling of mercury thermostats is required under Pennsylvania law and identify locations of nearby collection points.

Manufacturers and the DEP are required to provide education and outreach on the proper management of mercury thermostats and other products containing mercury, including maintaining a list of approved collection sites.

“The Mercury-Free Thermostat Law gives every citizen and every contractor convenient access to outlets for recycling of out-of-service mercury thermostats,” Fidler said. “They can drop off thermostats at retail and wholesale collection points in their communities virtually every day of the week.

“Retailers, such as The Hardware Center here in Paoli, will be key to this effort for homeowners who can now recycle their old thermostat when they go to purchase a mercury-free thermostat.”

Thermostat retailers are not required to meet their responsibilities under the law for another year, but a number of wholesalers statewide already are providing collections to the public and to contractors through a program created by the Thermostat Recycling Corp.

This nonprofit group was founded in the late 1990s by three major thermostat manufacturers to facilitate the nationwide collection of all brands of used, wall-mounted mercury-switch thermostats so that the mercury can be purified for re-use.

Wholesalers may meet their obligations under the new state law by joining the existing program. To find a participating wholesaler, call the Thermostat Recycling Corp. toll-free, at 800-238-8192.

The Mercury-Free Thermostat Law is the latest of Pennsylvania’s efforts to reduce mercury releases into the environment.

The Clean Air Mercury Rule will result in an 80 percent cut in mercury emissions from all Pennsylvania coal-fired power plants by 2010, and a 90 percent reduction by 2015.

The state is involved in a Great Lakes regional strategy for reducing mercury from industrial and nonindustrial sources and it also participates in the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program to recover mercury switches used in automobile convenience lighting.

In addition, Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards require that 18 percent of electricity sold in the state will come from renewable and alternative sources by 2021, leading to a significant reduction in mercury emitted from traditional power plants.

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