But 5,600 Pounds of Mercury Still on Walls of Maine Homes, Businesses
Today, the Natural Resources Council of Maine hosted a news conference at the Maine Hardware Store in Portland to inform Maine people about the new mercury thermostat sales ban that went into effect January 1, 2006, and to highlight the need for additional policy measures to capture mercury from old thermostats.
“Mercury threatens the health of Maine’s people, wildlife and environment,” says Natural Resources Council of Maine Outreach Coordinator Matt Prindiville. “We are pleased that mercury thermostats will no longer be sold in Maine and want to urge Maine people to replace and recycle their old thermostats safely.”
The January 1 ban on sales of new mercury thermostats will prevent that mercury from entering the waste stream, but it does not address the massive stockpile of mercury from old thermostats. DEP estimates that there are 5,600 pounds of mercury contained in the old thermostats hanging on the walls of Maine homes and businesses.
“While banning the sale of mercury thermostats was a critical first step, there’s still enough mercury hanging in Maine homes to contaminate every lake, river and stream in the state,” says Prindiville. “It’s time for Maine’s legislators to finish the job on thermostats.”
The Natural Resources Council urges homeowners to contact their local public works department or transfer station to learn about how to dispose of mercury-containing thermostats responsibly.
“As a homeowner, I am pleased to get the old mercury thermostat off my wall, out of my house and dropped off for safe recycling where it will not come back to haunt the environment,” said Steve Taylor, a homeowner from Topsham. “Besides, my new energy-efficient digital thermostat will save energy and money.”
A recent report by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management shows that municipal garbage burning is the largest source of mercury air pollution within Maine and the region. Mercury-containing products such as thermostats, thrown in the trash, are incinerated. This results in the release of mercury to our air and water. Old thermostats are among the largest “reservoirs” of mercury.
This legislative session, the Natural Resources Council of Maine will be working to pass a bill, also supported by the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, which would establish a $5 bounty per mercury thermostat to be paid to contractors who bring in old thermostats for proper disposal. Of the $5 bounty, $4 would go to the contractor and $1 would go to the wholesaler.
“It is time for Maine legislators to focus on eliminating remaining sources of mercury pollution, including from products like thermostats and button cell batteries that end up in our trash,” says Prindiville.
A thermostat recycling program began in Maine in 2000, but according to current DEP estimates still fewer than 10% of the mercury thermostats are being recycled.
Mercury enters Maine’s environment via pollution from power plants, waste incinerators and other sources.
Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that attacks the brains of developing babies and is linked to learning disabilities and developmental delays, as well as damage to the heart, nervous system and kidneys in adults. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one in six women of childbearing age in the United States is at risk of having newborns with neurological problems from mercury exposure in the womb. This translates to 630,000 children being born each year at risk for problems from exposure to mercury.
In 2004, the FDA and the EPA advised women of childbearing age and young children to avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, and to limit consumption of canned albacore tuna and fresh tuna to 6 oz. per week.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine is the state’s leading advocacy organization protecting our water, air, forests, and wildlife. A membership-based, not-for-profit organization, NRCM works to improve the quality of rivers, reduce toxic chemicals threatening human and wildlife health, decrease air pollution, and conserve Maine lands, now and for future generations.
The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine is a diverse coalition of Maine organizations with over 40,000 combined members, working to protect our children, our families and our economy by cleaning up pollution and promoting safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals.