At the urging of NRCM, in 2002 Maine lawmakers passed a first-in-the-nation law to require carmakers to pay to collect harmful mercury switches from junked cars before scrapping them. Maine’s car mercury switch law was challenged in court by the carmakers, but the law prevailed.
In December 2004, NRCM released a survey of car dismantlers in Maine. The report shows that modest incentives go a long way in motivating small dismantling facilities to participate, as 16,896 mercury-laden car switches have been collected.
The survey of Maine auto recyclers shows that the vast majority (80%) are removing mercury switches from the cars they process in exchange for a bounty of $1 per switch. While most recyclers say that $1 is far below their cost to remove the switches, the program has greatly raised awareness of the importance of removing switches and, in turn, switches are being removed at a far greater rate than previously. Recyclers respond favorably to the fairness of compelling automakers to share the cost of preventing toxic pollution caused by the decision of auto designers to use mercury in cars despite the availability of safe, effective, and affordable alternatives.
At least five other states have followed Maine¹s lead by introducing similar legislation, and recently the Environmental Protection Agency has initiated a national discussion among stakeholders to attempt to solve this problem nationwide. States, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Rhode Island and Massachusetts, are considering adopting statutes modeled after the Maine law.
Opponents and skeptics have claimed that the program in Maine had not demonstrably produced impressive switch collection rates. But our survey has positively identified 16,896 switches collected under Maine¹s auto switch program.
Initial figures reported to Maine’s DEP as of November 2003 indicated that Wesco (the company that runs the collection centers) had received a total of 1,613 mercury switches from four facilities in the first nine months of the program. However, under the law, an auto recycler is allowed to store the recovered switches for up to three years or until they accumulate 4,000 switches. When this survey project began, no one knew the extent to which Maine auto recyclers were accumulating the switches on site as opposed to failing to pull switches. Now we know!