Mainers are being urged to recycle old thermostats that contain mercury now that a new law outlawing sales of the thermostats has gone into effect.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine held a press conference Tuesday at a hardware store to demonstrate the use of digital, nonmercury thermostats and discuss recycling options for old ones. The law banning sales of thermostats with mercury went into effect Jan. 1.
Many nondigital thermostats use tilt switches – glass bulbs containing inert gas and approximately 3 grams of mercury. The switches are generally visible behind the plastic casing of older thermostats. The mercury is not a hazard in the home, but when thrown away, the toxic material ends up in landfills or is incinerated. Mercury is a neurotoxin that does not break down when released into the environment.
Local public works departments and transfer stations can advise residents where to take their old thermostats for proper recycling.
The resources council said it will be working to pass a bill this legislative session requiring thermostat manufacturers to pay a $5 bounty for each thermostat turned in for disposal.
Less than 10 percent of the mercury contained in thermostats removed from buildings in Maine is turned in for proper disposal, resulting in as much as 185 pounds of mercury being discarded, dumped into landfills or incinerated each year, the organization said.
“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,” said Natural Resources Council outreach coordinator Matt Prindiville. “It’s time for Maine’s legislators to finish the job on thermostats.”
Thermostats in Maine buildings now contain a total of some 5,600 pounds of mercury, the organization said, citing Department of Environmental Protection statistics. The mercury capsules in thermostats can pose a threat to home occupants, trash haulers and Maine’s environment.
Legislators passed the law banning the old thermostats in 2001.