North Carolina Takes Action On Mercury Pollution From Vehicles

Public Health Goal Met But Wrong Party Foots The Bill

October 11, 2005
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(11 October 2005)  North Carolina joined the growing number of states taking action to reduce mercury pollution when it passed a bill that will reimburse vehicle dismantlers for removing mercury switches from vehicles before they are recycled.  Environmental Defense and the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club praised the legislation but expressed disappointment that funding will come from the state's Department of Transportation through small increases in fees for vehicle titles, title transfers and removing liens, rather than from the auto industry.  The fee increases went into effect October 1. 

"This law will help improve public health, but automakers are making North Carolinians foot the bill for a problem caused by the car industry," said Kevin Mills, Clean Car Campaign director at Environmental Defense.  "Automakers made a bad design decision and don't deserve a free ride.  They choose to use vehicle parts that contained mercury despite the availability of cheap, equally effective and environmentally benign alternatives and should take responsibility for the outcome."

"We salute the North Carolina General Assembly and business leaders for their efforts to finalize this critical and cost effective bill, but more could have been done to ensure that automakers pay the tab, not the motoring public," said Molly Diggins, director of the NC Sierra Club. 

Mercury switches are the nation's largest manufacturing source of toxic mercury.  Since automakers began installing mercury switches in autos over 30 years ago, the mercury from these devices has been released into the environment as vehicles are scrapped at the end of their useful life.  The auto industry used an estimated 197 tons of mercury in vehicle switches in the U.S., and continued to use mercury switches - - saving only pennies per switch - - for many years after promising to switch to mercury free alternatives. 

More than 20 states have expressed interest in programs that will prevent the release of mercury pollution from scrapped vehicles.  Maine was the first state to pass and implement a complete program.  Recently New Jersey and Arkansas passed legislation to build on Maine’s success with similar programs.  Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and other states are also working to pass similar legislation.  This unprecedented action by such a diverse group of states demonstrates that a national commitment by U. S. automakers is needed to address this source of mercury pollution.

Environmental Defense works on this issue nationally through the Partnership for Mercury-Free Vehicles, which includes the Steel Manufacturers Association, Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries, Steel Recycling Institute, Automotive Recyclers Association, and the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center.