Environmental Groups Call On Automakers To Replace Toxic Mercury

July 2, 2001

The Clean Car Campaign, with the support of 25 environmental organizations, today called on automakers to remove toxic mercury from vehicles in for service, repair, or recall. The Campaign also endorsed a similar call by 26 state attorneys general urging Ford to remove mercury-containing devices as part of their Firestone tire recall. The recommendation by the attorneys general would prevent up to 2.5 tons of mercury from entering the environment.

Mercury can cause brain, lung and kidney damage in humans. It has been used in switches for hood and trunk convenience lighting, and in other devices, becoming a contaminant when vehicles are recycled. The Campaign today sent letters to the heads of Ford, DaimlerChrysler and GM asking them to have dealers replace switches for free when vehicles come in for service. The letter and Campaign reports on mercury and autos can be found at www.cleancarcampaign.org/mercury.html on the web.

“It’s time for automakers to take responsibility for the environmental hazards of their vehicles,” said Charles Griffith, auto project director at the Ecology Center. “Replacing mercury switches protects the environment and consumers with a simple, affordable fix.”

“New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and the other attorneys general should be commended for their leadership in promoting a workable plan to recover automotive mercury,” said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project.

“Ford could show real leadership among automakers by replacing not just the tires but also the toxic mercury,” said Dean Menke, an engineer with Environmental Defense.

Concerns about exposure to mercury have grown in recent years, with many states and stores banning mercury thermometers. More than forty states have issued fish consumption advisories for mercury, and the National Academy of Sciences 2000 mercury report found that more than 60,000 children may suffer from exposure to mercury while in the womb. Mercury can cause neurological problems that range from mild learning disabilities to mental retardation.

Despite concerns about mercury contained in automobiles, little has been done to rectify the problem, and automakers have generally pushed the issue off to auto dismantlers. The Campaign proposes a national program for collecting up to 90% of the mercury switches now on the road, which includes working with both auto dealers and recyclers. The plan seeks to maximize recovery of mercury by getting automakers to start with their own dealers to remove and replace the switches whenever a vehicle is serviced or recalled.