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Mercury Thermostat Collection Programs Failing in IA, 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 16, 2013

DES MOINES, Iowa - Voluntary efforts to keep mercury thermostats out of the trash in Iowa 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 gone 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.

Iowa has two programs that encourage recycling of mercury-containing products. Theresa Steiner, environmental specialist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said that one requires contractors to turn in old thermostats for recycling and offers incentives for doing so.

"We have a program where distributors will take those back, collect them up from contractors or from the general public, and then the Thermostat Recycling Corporation takes them in and recycles them," as she described that program.

She said the other Iowa program requires auto switches that contain mercury to be recycled once the vehicle is junked.

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

The report is at bit.ly/ZeUc8I.

Richard Alan, Public News Service - IA