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Little Switches

Little Switches Add Up to Big Cuts in Mercury Pollution

(Washington, D.C. – Aug. 11, 2006) EPA announced a national program today that will help cut mercury air emissions by up to 75 tons over the next 15 years. The National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program is designed to remove mercury containing light switches from scrap vehicles before the vehicles are flattened, shredded, and melted to make new steel.

“President Bush understands that removing these little switches will lead to big mercury reductions,” said Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. “This collaboration strengthens the United States’ position as the worldwide leader in reducing mercury pollution.”

Although the U.S. automobile industry halted use of mercury containing light switches in 2002, an estimated 67.5 million switches are currently in use in older vehicles and available for recovery. Each year, the steel industry recycles more than 14 million tons of steel from scrap vehicles, the equivalent to nearly 13.5 million new automobiles, making vehicles the most recycled consumer product and the steel industry one of the largest consumers of recycled materials in the world.

Together with existing state mercury switch recovery efforts, this program will significantly reduce mercury air emissions from the furnaces used in steel making — the fourth leading source in the United States after coal-fired utility boilers, industrial boilers and gold mining. Under the program, automobile dismantlers will remove the mercury containing light switches from scrap vehicles prior to the vehicles being flattened and then shredded at scrap recycling facilities. The program will also provide a financial incentive for those who remove mercury switches.

Domestic releases and uses of mercury have decreased significantly over the last 25 years. U.S. mercury air emissions have been reduced by 45 percent since 1990, and mercury use in products and processes decreased 83 percent between 1980 and 1997. Recent efforts to further cut mercury emissions have targeted industrial boilers, chlorine production facilities and a Bush Administration regulation that, for the first time, will achieve a 70 percent reduction in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, when fully implemented. EPA now has standards in place limiting mercury air releases from most major known industrial sources in the United States.

The National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program is the result of a two-year collaborative effort involving EPA, the End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corporation, the American Iron and Steel Institute, the Steel Manufacturers Association, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the Automotive Recyclers Association, Environmental Defense, the Ecology Center (Ann Arbor), and representatives of the Environmental Council of the States. EPA and these stakeholders announced the program at an event in Chicago to mark the signing of the agreement which establishes the program. The event was held at Bionic Auto Parts and Sales Inc., an automobile recycling facility in Chicago, Ill.

More information about the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program and additional mercury reduction efforts: http://www.epa.gov/mercury

More information about state and local mercury switch removal programs: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/mercury/carswich.htm

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