BOSTON, Mass.—A manufacturer-run program for collecting mercury thermostats is failing to keep the toxic heavy metal out of the trash—and the environment—in most states, according to a new report released today by the Multi-State Mercury Products Campaign (MMPC) and the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI).
Turning up the Heat II estimates that, at most, the industry recycling program has captured 8 percent of mercury thermostats coming out of service in the past decade. This has resulted in the disposal of over 50 tons of mercury into the environment, which can expose people to the neurotoxin through fish consumption.
"For decades, companies like Honeywell, White-Rodgers and General Electric profited from the sale of mercury thermostats but now are shirking their responsibilities when it comes to preventing pollution," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. "In state after state, manufacturers have pushed for collection programs that don't work. It's time to disregard their misinformation and do what's right to protect public health."
Mercury-containing thermostats are a significant source of preventable mercury pollution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conservatively estimated that 2 to 3 million thermostats come out of service each year nationally, amounting to 7 to 10 tons of mercury annually. Each thermostat contains an average of 4 grams of mercury.
Turning up the Heat II used data from the annual report of the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC), a voluntary program created by manufacturers, to estimate the thermostat collection rates per capita for each state in 2009 through 2011. Results showed that TRC collected only 5.8 to 8 percent of the mercury thermostats coming out of service from 2002 to 2011.
In addition, of the 10 states with laws requiring mercury thermostat collection, only two—Maine and Vermont—had programs that were significantly more effective than states with no program at all. The Maine and Vermont programs require that manufacturers pay $5 to contractors and homeowners who return mercury-added thermostats, resulting in significantly higher collection rates. After Vermont's $5 incentive went into effect, the state rose to first in the nation for collection 2011.
"It's clear that a financial incentive, coupled with good education and outreach, has resulted in Vermont having one of the highest per-capita thermostat collection rates in the country," said Bender.