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

PHOTO: The new report “Turning up the Heat II” says the thermostat industry's voluntary recycling program has captured only 8 percent of the mercury thermostats that have gone 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 percent of the mercury thermostats that have gone out of service in the past decade. CREDIT: Stephen Cummings
April 15, 2013

YANKTON, S.D. - Voluntary efforts to keep discarded mercury thermostats out of the trash, in South Dakota and nationwide, are failing, according to a new analysis.

Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project, said that 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 eight percent of the available mercury thermostats are being collected, and as a result of that about 50 tons of mercury got into the environment that could've been collected."

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 rate, Bender said, there should be a ban on discarding mercury thermostats in the trash. In addition, he said, incentives have been shown to work in some states, such as offering $5 for each one that's turned in.

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

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 2 to 3 million thermostats go out of service annually across the country. Each contains an average of four grams of mercury.

In South Dakota, the report shows that thermostat collections fell from 2007 to 2008 by 69 percent, the second-worst rate in the nation. Only 173 thermostats were turned in in 2008.

The report is at bit.ly/ZeUc8I.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD