New Enviro Target: Thermostats

As the EPA is working hard to kill off electricity generation, who will need a thermostat anyway?

The Associated Press reports,

ALBANY, N.Y. — While health and environmental groups are praising the Environmental Protection Agency for reining in mercury emissions from power plants, a New York group says discarded thermostats remain a major source of mercury contamination in the state.

Laura Haight of the New York Public Interest Research Group noted Thursday, a day after the EPA announcement, that the rule doesn’t apply to trash incinerators. She cited state Department of Environmental Conservation data showing incinerators release even more mercury than coal-fired power plants in New York.

Mercury is highly toxic to the brain and nervous system, especially for developing infants and children. The state Health Department has issued health warnings against consuming fish from the Catskills, Adirondacks, and nearly 100 water bodies elsewhere in the state because of mercury contamination.

New York state passed a law in 2005 phasing out the sale of mercury-containing thermostats and banning the disposal of most consumer products containing mercury in solid waste facilities. But with no effective collection programs in place for old thermostats, 99 percent of the estimated 310,000 mercury thermostats taken out of service each year in New York end up in the trash, Haight said. That represents more than a ton of mercury, some of which ends up in incinerators, she said.

New York has 10 refuse incinerators, which emitted about 128 pounds of mercury into the air in 2009, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. The highest mercury emissions came from Covanta’s incinerator in Niagara Falls, which released 34 pounds.

As little as 1 gram of airborne mercury a year can, over time, contaminate fish in a 20-acre lake, according to the Interstate Mercury Education and Reduction Clearinghouse, a waste management industry program.

Several states, including Maine and Vermont, have passed laws requiring manufacturers to collect discarded mercury thermostats. But similar legislation in New York state has failed to pass for the last two years. The Public Interest group blames heavy lobbying by manufacturers, especially Honeywell Corp., which made most of the old thermostats being discarded now.

“Every year that Honeywell blocks legislation to collect discarded thermostats, more than a ton of mercury ends up in the waste stream, ultimately poisoning our air and water,” Haight said.

But Honeywell disputed characterization of the company as working against measures to contain mercury pollution.

“Honeywell strongly supports legislation that bans the sale of mercury-containing thermostats and mandates mercury thermostat recycling, with responsibilities shared among thermostat manufacturers, wholesalers and contractors,” Honeywell spokeswoman Marie Yarroll said Thursday.

The company said it supports voluntary recycling programs and works with the Thermostat Recycling Corp., an industry group that runs a nationwide voluntary recycling program that has recovered nearly 1.5 million mercury-containing thermostats to date.

Consumers can find voluntary thermostat recycling programs at www.thermostat-recycle.org .

3 thoughts on “New Enviro Target: Thermostats”

  1. In Michigan, for decades residental and small business users just discarded regular 4 foot straight tube fluorescent in the trash (large idustrial users had to recycle.) Only after oppenents balked about the Hg in the curly q bulbs did recycle ctrs pop up. Even then only for the curly Qs, which contain less Hg then the larger 4 ft straight bulbs. Is the Hg in straight tubes less toxic then the curly Qs, or are the zelots of the latter day church of enviromentalism just engaged in cognitive dissonance?

  2. “As little as 1 gram of airborne mercury a year can, over time, contaminate fish in a 20-acre lake…”. Anyone know if there is any science behing this? And over what time? 10years? 50? 1000? Millions?

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