|The mercury switches used in autos are small, about the size of a new acorn. Source: EPA.|
The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a new national program today that will help cut mercury air emissions by up to 75 tons over the next 15 years. The National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program is designed to remove mercury-containing light switches used for convenience lighting in hoods and trunks and in some anti-lock braking systems from scrap vehicles before the vehicles are flattened, shredded, and melted to make new steel.
The US automobile industry halted use of mercury-containing light switches in 2002, nine years after foreign automakers made the change. An estimated 67.5 million such 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. Together with existing state mercury switch recovery efforts, this 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.
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 will also provide a financial incentive for those who remove mercury switches.
Ten automakers created the End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corporation (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.
Participating dismantlers will remove mercury-containing switches and ship them to ELVS, giving the dismantlers the ability to market reduced-mercury scrap. Participating scrap recyclers will build awareness of the mercury switch removal program in their own industry and in the dismantling industry, which is their chief supplier of scrap vehicles.
Participating steelmakers will educate and encourage their supply chain to participate, and will take steps to purchase scrap metal generated from participating dismantlers and recyclers that have removed the mercury-containing switches.
These industries will have support from participating environmental groups; the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), the association representing state environmental agencies; and US EPA.