by Matt Prindiville, NRCM Toxics Project Director
Senator Goodall, Representative Duchesne and members of the Natural Resources Committee. My name is Matt Prindiville, and I’m the Clean Production Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). NRCM is Maine’s leading, membership-supported environmental advocacy organization. We represent over 12,000 members and supporters and promote science-based, solutions-oriented policy on a variety of issues including energy, land conservation, river restoration and preventing toxic pollution.
We support LD 1042, and thank Representative Treat for bringing this bill to the attention of the committee. From our read, LD 1042 tweaks several provisions in statute concerning mercury-containing products to more effectively administer those laws and boost recovery rates of mercury-containing products. NRCM was one of the leading drivers behind Maine’s mercury laws and we are committed to ensuring that those laws work as effectively as possible to achieve the goal outlined in the 1998 New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers Mercury Action Plan of virtual mercury elimination.
We support the provisions clarifying the “mercury switch” language, banning wheel weights that contain mercury, including retailers in the thermostat recovery program and requiring an education and outreach plan for thermostat collection. I would like to focus my testimony on the language concerning thermostats and auto-switches.
As the committee may remember, old thermostats in buildings throughout Maine hold one of the largest reservoirs of mercury in the State of Maine. In January 2004, the standing stock of mercury in thermostats was estimated to be 6,027 pounds. During building demolition or routine remodeling, thermostats are removed and replaced, creating a mercury waste stream that in Maine is estimated to be at least 200 pounds per year. In 2006, after the law prohibiting the sale of mercury thermostats went into effect, the law requiring manufacturers to collect and recycle them was greatly improved with the addition of the $5 bounty for returned thermostats.
As is true with any collection and recycling initiative, success requires broad awareness and extensive participation. To boost recovery rates to where they need to be, people, including service technicians have to know about the law. The outreach plan outlined in the bill is another important addition to truly inform Maine people about the law. Allowing retailers to voluntarily participate by setting up collection bins will also make it easier for service technicians and private citizens alike to dispose of old, mercury thermostats as it will allow for additional collection sites.
Regarding mercury auto switches, most American–made vehicles manufactured before 2003, and some older European models, have capsules of mercury installed as part of convenience lighting in trunks and hoods as well as in some anti-lock brake systems. Typically, there is about 1 gram of mercury per light switch and up to 3 grams per anti-lock brake system. Some 217 million of these switches were installed in vehicles between 1974 and 2003. If switches containing mercury are not removed before automobiles are recycled, the mercury is emitted into the air from electric arc furnaces during a smelting process. Automobile scrapping is the fourth largest source of mercury pollution nationwide, behind waste incineration, coal-fired power plants and commercial/industrial boilers It is estimated that in 2003 vehicle smelting released some 18,000 pounds of mercury into the air over the United States. A significant share of this mercury travels to the skies over Maine and settles onto our land and waterways.
To the great credit of this Committee and the Maine State Legislature, action was taken on this issue. In 2002, Maine became the first state in the nation to pass a law to require automakers to pay to prevent mercury pollution from old cars. To the credit of Maine DEP, this law has been very efficiently and effectively implemented and is resulting in the recovering of mercury that would otherwise be accumulating in the environment. Thankfully, many other states have followed Maine’s lead.
Between September 13 and October 11, 2004, the Natural Resources Council of
Maine (NRCM) conducted a phone survey of 115 facilities that said they have
conducted business that is regulated under Maine’s Mercury Auto Switch Law. While this is dated information, we believe it’s relevant to the bill. In that survey, 52% of survey respondents said that recording the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is overly burdensome and discourages compliance with the law. Burdensomeness of recording the VIN was the single most frequently volunteered response to the initial, unprompted request for opinions on how to improve the program.
We understand that there are issues with removing the VIN number and would like to dialogue with DEP, the automakers, scrappers and recyclers before passing judgment on this provision.
Thank you for your consideration, and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.