Historically, mercury light switches were used in autos for convenience lights (under the hood or in the trunk) and in anti-lock braking systems. Automakers have phased out the use of these mercury switches in new vehicles. When retired vehicles are recycled, however, the mercury from unrecovered switches can be released to the environment.
The national program would include a commitment by the End-of-Life Vehicle Solutions Corporation (ELVS) to provide information regarding switch removal and to take responsibility for collection, transportation, and recycling of the switches. ELVS is a nonprofit corporation that was created by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in anticipation of this national program. ELVS members include BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Ford, GM, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Volkswagen.
Auto dismantlers and others who recover switches would submit them to the program for proper management. Steelmakers and those who produce steel scrap for steelmaking would promote participation in the program and also act to ensure mercury switches are removed. ELVS and steelmakers would create a fund in support of implementation of the program and for incentives for participation to those removing switches.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson discussed the agency's commitment to complete negotiations on a formal collaborative agreement with industry, government and non-governmental groups to solve the problem of mercury switches in end of life automobiles.
Johnson explained, "As many of you know, we have made significant progress toward developing a national partnership program that will help remove mercury switches from scrap automobiles. This national program will substantially reduce airborne mercury emissions from steel mills, and will do so much faster than EPA or states working on their own. The negotiating team includes representatives from the auto, steel, and recycling industries; state governments; environmental groups; and EPA. I want to thank them for a lot of hard work. They are actively working to hammer out the final details and seek agreement within their respective organizations. I fully anticipate we will have a national agreement in place within the coming weeks.
Not so fast
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) took exception to Johnson's comments concerning the National Mercury Switch Recovery Program (NMSRP). "Administrator Johnson has clearly overstated the progress made by the parties discussing the NMSRP," said ISRI President Robin Wiener. "There are serious flaws in the memorandum of understanding that is proposed as a structure for future discussions."
In 2002, ISRI helped form the Partnership for Mercury Free Vehicles, a collection of associations representing environmental groups, auto dismantlers, scrap recyclers, and the steel industry. ISRI and the partnership have worked to establish switch removal programs that are now operating in several states.
"We welcomed the opportunity to address this issue on the national level," Wiener said. "And we are committed to finding a solution to the problem of mercury emissions resulting from automobile applications including a sound and effective mercury switch removal program. However, we have grave concerns that the NMSRP, as currently outlined in the working memorandum of understanding, will not achieve the important goal: protection of human health and the environment."
The National Mercury Switch Recovery Program Statement of Principles for Agreement can be found at www.autoalliance.org.