Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal that can cause permanent brain
damage, autism, deafness and blindness as well as reduce IQs and
slow motor functions. Recent studies indicate that as many as 10
percent of babies born each year in the United States are exposed to
excessive mercury levels in the womb.
The new collection
initiative will expand the availability of current recycling
opportunities for mercury thermostats. Long-term household hazardous
waste collection sites in both Rockford and Naperville have agreed
to collect and recycle mercury thermostats through an industry
take-back program. This will provide two drop-off locations in
northern Illinois for homeowners or "do-it-yourselfers" who purchase
"Illinois is already a leader in taking steps to reduce mercury,
and this new recycling program is another way we can help make homes
safer and communities cleaner for our children," the governor said.
The five-state pilot project will be administered by the Product
Stewardship Institute, a national organization that seeks to reduce
environmental impacts from consumer products, and the Thermostat
Recycling Corp., a nonprofit entity created by Honeywell,
White-Rodgers and General Electric. The project will run through the
end of the year in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington state
"This partnership with the thermostat manufacturing industry is
another important part of a multifaceted initiative by Governor
Blagojevich and IEPA that leads the nation in reducing the hazards
of exposure to potentially harmful mercury in our environment,"
Until now, the take-back program has been available only to
thermostat wholesalers. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning
contractors can drop off mercury thermostats at participating
wholesaler locations when purchasing new thermostats or other
supplies. The new initiative will allow individuals to recycle
thermostats by taking those they replace on their own to a long-term
household hazardous waste facility. Thermostat Recycling Corp. will
provide the containers and pay for shipping costs to a commercial
mercury recovery facility.
"Illinois has shown great initiative by stepping forward on this
pilot and adding another element in its comprehensive approach to
reducing mercury emissions," said Scott Cassel, executive director
of the Product Stewardship Institute.
The Illinois EPA estimates that between 88,000 and 132,000
mercury thermostats are disposed of annually in the state.
Forty-four thermostat wholesale stores are participating in the
industry take-back program. In 2004, these wholesalers collected
over 5,000 mercury thermostats from throughout the state for
The typical mercury thermostat contains 3 grams of mercury that
can be released into the environment if the thermostat is broken or
disposed of improperly. The mercury is used as a component of a
mechanical tilt switch, which activates the heating and cooling
equipment connected to the thermostat. The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency has estimated that 63 million mercury-containing
thermostats are in use within the United States, containing
approximately 230 tons of mercury.
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Mercury is a potent neurotoxin capable of impairing childhood
development when pregnant women or young children are exposed to the
metal. Without proper management, mercury may be released into the
environment at the end of a thermostat's useful life, during waste
handling or disposal. Waste compaction in a garbage truck, at a
transfer station or at a landfill could easily lead to breakage of
the glass tube in the switch, allowing the mercury to be released
into the air.
Since coming into office, Blagojevich has demonstrated his
continued commitment to reducing mercury in the environment:
Blagojevich signed mercury switch legislation that creates a
statewide program for collecting and removing mercury-containing
switches from retired vehicles before they are processed as
scrap metal, so that the mercury is not emitted into the
environment. The new law requires automakers to create mercury
switch collection programs, offering storage containers to auto
recyclers and dismantlers, and arranging for transportation of
the removed switches.
In January 2006,
Blagojevich announced his proposal to aggressively cut mercury
emissions from Illinois power plants by 90 percent by mid-2009.
These state standards will go far beyond the federal Clean Air
Mercury Rule restrictions adopted last spring and would make
Illinois a national leader in efforts to reduce toxic emissions
into the environment. The proposed rules were filed March 14
with the Illinois Pollution Control Board.
Focusing on retail
products, three years ago the governor signed legislation that
ended the sale of mercury thermometers and novelty items. This
is another step to remove mercury from the waste stream and
replace those items with safer available alternatives. The
legislation supported previous legislation that further reduced
mercury-containing products that pose a potential health hazard
by prohibiting schools from purchasing mercury-containing
scientific equipment for use in classrooms.
Illinois EPA also
continues to implement the governor's mercury initiative on a
variety of fronts, including household hazardous waste
collections of mercury items, "green chemistry" workshops and
exchanges of mercury thermometers.
Illinois EPA has
mercury monitoring programs under way. An air sampling station
in Northbrook, launched in 2000, is one of only two continuous
mercury-monitoring stations in the U.S. Mercury samples are also
being collected, using advanced scientific techniques, at
several inland lakes and streams across the state.
These initiatives are designed to reduce the health threats to
Illinois residents, making schools, homes and other buildings safer.
For additional information on the recycling program, please visit
[News release from the governor's