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Mercury Thermostat Collection Programs Failing in Arizona, U.S.

PHOTO: The new report “Turning Up the Heat II” says the thermostat industry's voluntary recycling program has captured only 8% of the mercury thermostats that have come out of service in the past decade. CREDIT: Stephen Cummings
PHOTO: The new report “Turning Up the Heat II” says the thermostat industry's voluntary recycling program has captured only 8% of the mercury thermostats that have come out of service in the past decade. CREDIT: Stephen Cummings
April 8, 2013

PHOENIX - Voluntary efforts to keep old mercury thermostats out of the trash in Arizona and nationwide are failing, according to a new analysis. Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project, said the programs run by manufacturers have captured only a small portion of the thermostats that have come out of service over the past decade.

"We estimate that, nationally, only about 8 percent of the available mercury thermostats are being collected, and, as a result of that, there's about 50 tons of mercury that got into the environment that could've been collected," Bender charged.

The report ranks Arizona 31st among the states in its collection rate for mercury thermostats in the last few years. Mercury and most of its compounds are extremely toxic, and exposure can lead to a variety of physical, cognitive and behavioral problems.

To improve the turn-in rate, Bender said, there should be a ban on tossing mercury thermostats into the trash. In addition, he said, in some state, incentives have been shown to work, such as offering $5 for each old thermostat that's turned in.

"It's mainly directed at heating and ventilation, air-conditioning contractors, and what we're trying to do is convince them it's worth a little extra time to bring those in," he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that two to three million thermostats come out of service annually across the country. Each contains an average of four grams of mercury.

See the "Turning Up the Heat II" report at MercuryPolicy.org.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ