Testimony at the Maine Legislature
by Jon Hinck, NRCM toxics project director
Senator Cowger. Representative Koffman. Members of the Natural Resources Committee. My name is Jon Hinck. I am Staff Attorney and Toxics Project Director with the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
NRCM supports LD 854 and LD 1058 with amendments proposed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in Appendix “F” of its report presented to you yesterday. Since mercury is no longer needed to manufacture effective, inexpensive button cell batteries, the Council encourages this Committee set a date for a ban on the sale or distribution of any button cell batteries that contain mercury. This is a reasonable measure to further reduce mercury pollution to the State’s environment and public health.
Both LD 854 and LD 1058 would ban as of January 1, 2007 the sale of “novelties” with batteries containing mercury. The definition of novelties in LD 1058 is broader and therefore the better of the two. L.D. 1058 would also require labeling on other products with these batteries and would ban the disposal (in landfills or incinerators) of the batteries.
As a well substantiated November 2004 report done for the State of Maine by the Lowell Center makes plain: high-performance, low-cost non-mercury alternatives to the mercury button cell batteries are now on the market. Maine could set a date to end all sales of all batteries containing mercury.
Environmental policymakers in Maine have been well aware of the unfortunate effects that the use of mercury has had on our environment. Over the last few years, this Committee has led efforts to reverse the scourge of mercury pollution. A ban on button cell batteries that contain mercury is eminently reasonable and fits into this positive and well-established trend.
In the last six years, the Maine Legislature has enacted laws to:
But the job is not finished. Due to unsafe mercury levels, Maine’s Bureau of Health still maintains strict fish consumption advisories for most of the fresh water fish found in all Maine’s lakes, rivers and streams.
In 2002, DEP estimated that approximately 15% of Maine’s mercury emissions were attributable to mercury-containing products used in-state. This estimate does not include mercury originating in products that are discharged to wastewater. We should not hold off on taking action because the mercury in button batteries is relatively small. First, small amounts of mercury multiplied by large unit counts become significant. Second, there is a demonstrated track record of action taken in one state – and on this issue specifically Maine – influencing action elsewhere. We are the proverbial tailpipe for mercury pollution and our environment improves when progress is made in states upwind. We really benefit from being a leader in these matters.
Maine law codified at 38 MRSA 2165(6) already prohibits the sale of “consumer mercuric oxide” button cell batteries and “alkaline manganese button cells that contain more than 25 mgs of mercury.” The law, however, effectively exempts the button cell batteries. A loophole that may have been reasonable in 1992 has outlived its utility as the technology for mercury-free alternatives has advanced.
As the December 2004 Lowell Center Report makes clear:
The Lowell Center report points out that most miniature batteries are used in the U.S. in hearing aids. (p.13). For this reason,
“Based upon available data, it appears that zinc air batteries contribute the most mercury to the environment because of their high sales volumes for use in hearing aids.” (p. 4)
The report further confirms that, with regard to the safety and effectiveness issues regarding hearing aids (i.e., a battery placed in or near the human ear):
Lithium batteries have no leakage issues and can be used for hearing aids.
(Energizer CRX, table 6.4)
Energizer sells mercury-free zinc air miniature batteries in Europe for hearing aid applications. Energizer offers mercury-containing and mercury-free miniature batteries for the following four models: AC10/230, AC13, AC312, and AC675. The Energizer engineering data sheets for the mercury-containing zinc air miniature battery and the mercury-free zinc air miniature battery were compared for each of these four models. The performance data for all relevant parameters show no differences between the mercury-containing and mercury-free models.” (p.26)
Nevertheless, we understand that there may be some lag time in a transition from mercury to non-mercury alternatives for the Maine market. The DEP proposal provides for just such a transition.
How will this affect manufacturers? Based on prior experience we can expect dire predictions from the industry lobbyist who will present testimony here today. The National Electronics Manufacturers Association has seldom failed to predict doom in the past. But I found instructive a brief article in the National Jeweler that reported on December 6, 2004 that Maine could ban mercury-containing watch batteries. This publication, which is read by many retailers of high-end watches, reported that the Maine DEP “will likely recommend either a ban on their sale or a ban on … disposal of mercury batteries used in watches” The article quoted the American Watch Association (AWA) which acknowledged that Sony was now making mercury-free batteries that did not have a corrosive effect. The article said that some of the high end watch makers already “plan to use the Sony batteries as soon as they have a proven track record … but they feel it is too soon to risk using them in their valuable watches.”
For this reason, we would understand that a prohibition on the sale of mercury-added miniature batteries is appropriate be delayed for two to three years to allow for a smooth transition. The report back by DEP will assure that the law does not take effect prematurely.
In summary, in the interest of protecting Maine’s water bodies, wildlife and public health, we urge passage of these bills with amendments to set a 2009 date to end the distribution and sale of mercury button cell batteries in Maine.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Mercury in Maine: A Status Report”, Maine DEP (2002).