Saturday, Aug. 28


New Illinois law aims to reduce mercury releases to the environment     Send a link to a friend

Prohibits schools from purchasing mercury-containing products, bans sales of mercury switches and relays

[AUG. 28, 2004]  SPRINGFIELD -- As part of ongoing efforts to protect public health and the environment from the toxic effects of exposure to mercury, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich signed Senate Bill 2551 on Aug. 20, creating the Mercury Reduction Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, and Rep. Karen May, D-Highland Park, the bill aims to reduce mercury releases to the environment from consumer product breakage and disposal. The bill prohibits schools from purchasing mercury-containing products for the classroom and also bans sales of the mercury switches and relays found in some common consumer appliances: freezers, irons, gas appliances with pilot lights, sump pumps and some laptops.

"This bill makes schools and homes safer by eliminating potential pathways of mercury exposure," said Gov. Blagojevich. "I am proud that Illinois continues to be a leader on mercury-reduction issues and of the leadership shown by Sen. Hunter and Rep. May."

Mercury from consumer products can end up in waterways when discharged down the drain, incinerated or landfilled. Mercury leaks and spills can pose a health risk if people inhale mercury vapors. Mercury is a strong neurotoxin that can be especially harmful to young children. It persists in the environment, and high levels in Illinois waterways have led to health advisories that warn pregnant women and children to limit their fish consumption.

"Illinois is taking another big step towards eliminating mercury from the waste stream and promoting safer, alternative products that are readily available to consumers," said Illinois EPA Director Renee Cipriano.

Last year, the Illinois General Assembly took action to ban the sale of mercury fever thermometers and novelty products -- games, toys, jewelry and candles -- effective July 1 of this year.

Specifically, the bill mandates the following:

  • Schools are prohibited from purchasing elemental mercury, chemical mercury compounds and mercury-added measuring devices for classroom use, effective July 1, 2005.
  • Sales of mercury switches and mercury relays found in consumer appliances and commercial products (with some exceptions) are banned, effective July 1, 2007.
  • The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will prepare a report with recommendations for reducing and recycling mercury found in thermostats and vehicle components.
  • The Pollution Control Board must modify rules to facilitate the collection and recycling of mercury-added products.

[to top of second column in this article]

Illinois EPA estimates that consumer products account for 3,460 to 6,700 pounds of mercury disposed of in Illinois each year. Some of the largest sources include an estimated 890 pounds of mercury in thermostats and 840 pounds of mercury in auto switches. Many mercury-containing products in today's waste stream are no longer produced, including cylindrical alkaline batteries, certain pesticides and some latex paints made before the early 1990s.

Currently, Illinois EPA is addressing mercury on several fronts as part of the governor's Mercury Initiative. Under Gov. Blagojevich's administration, 131 chemical collections have been conducted at Illinois schools and more than 300 55-gallon drums, including 36 drums of mercury, have been removed for proper recycling or disposal. Household hazardous waste collections have garnered 28 drums of mercury-containing products, and Illinois EPA has sponsored exchanges of mercury thermometers.

Illinois EPA also has one of the nation's most extensive mercury monitoring programs. An air sampling station in Northbrook, launched in 2000, is one of only two continuous mercury-monitoring stations in the United States. Mercury samples are collected using advanced scientific techniques at several inland lakes and streams across the state.

Earlier this year, Illinois EPA made recommendations on limiting mercury emissions from power plants and other industrial sources. In addition, the governor's Clean Coal Technology Initiative encourages the use of advanced technologies to increase the use of Illinois coal, improve air quality, and create new mining, construction and related jobs, particularly in southern Illinois.

"This legislation a great step to continue to get mercury out of our environment," said Rep. May. "Because it is so dangerous to our children, we must continue the fight and take further steps to eradicate the mercury that enters our rivers and streams."

[News release from the governor's office]

< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor