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Manufacturer Mercury Thermostat Recycling Program ‘Not Working’

A program in Illinois that requires mercury thermostat manufacturers to collect and recycle their products isn’t preventing pollution, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Clean Water Fund.

The study shows 1.86 million thermostats in use in Illinois contain mercury; this is about one-fourth of the total 7.7 million thermostats on walls in the state, the groups say. Each mercury thermostat carries, on average, 4 grams of mercury in one or more switches within the thermostat. That means Illinois thermostats collectively contain more than 8 tons of mercury.

NRDC and the Clean Water Fund commissioned the study to help inform state officials as they continue implementing an Illinois law passed in 2010. The law changed a voluntary recycling program run by thermostat manufacturers to a mandatory one, and set collection goals of 15,000 mercury thermostats annually from 2012 to 2014. It then requires the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to set new collection goals for 2015 to 2020.

The study estimates that more than 100,000 mercury thermostats will be removed from homes and buildings in Illinois annually through 2019, while the industry program collected only slightly more than 13,000 thermostats in 2012; the last year data are available. Moreover, only 37 percent of the remaining mercury thermostats in Illinois are likely to be removed from home and building walls before the law expires at the end of 2020, the study shows.

The two organizations are calling for stronger state rules this year to speed up safe recycling of these thermostats.

Late last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a similar manufacturer-sponsored program into law. The Mercury Thermostat Collection Act, which was passed by the state assembly in June 2013, requires that manufacturers develop and implement a thermostat collection program that meets a pre-established goal of collecting 15,500 thermostats by 2015.


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