EPA and Auto Industry Agree on Mercury Disposal Plan
August 12, 2006
Auto Industry and E.P.A. Agree on Program to Recycle Mercury
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
WASHINGTON, Aug. 11 — The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that a new program paid for by industry groups would help capture up to seven tons of mercury emissions a year from old and out-of-use vehicles.
The mercury is primarily found in light switches in cars and trucks built before 2003. Until now, it has been ignored as old vehicles are dismantled, shredded, melted or crushed.
Agency officials estimated that 67.5 million switches were in use and available for recovery from vehicles on the road.
The program evolved from two years of negotiations between the agency, automakers, metal scrappers, vehicle shredders and environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense and the Ecology Center. That made the effort a relatively rare collaboration between industry and advocacy groups.
“This is a big step in erasing this source of mercury pollution,” Steven L. Johnson, the agency administrator, said in an interview. “To see all these groups agree on an issue is a great example of opposing sides of the table coming together to solve an environmental problem.”
Mercury is one of the most toxic air pollutants, and vehicle parts have been the fourth biggest source of it, after coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers and gold mining, according to the agency.
In terms of salvageable mercury, California leads among the states, with 11.6 tons of mercury in vehicles on the road, followed by Texas with 5.8 tons and Florida with 5.6 tons.
Recently enacted federal regulations have aimed at reducing emissions from industrial plants, but the recapture of mercury from vehicles has largely been left to state governments, with just a handful, working with automakers, taking action.
The new program, to be phased in over the next 12 months, seeks to provide all states with a unified approach, Mr. Johnson said.
Companies that dismantle or shred older cars and trucks will remove mercury from light switches, as well as brakes, before crushing the vehicles into scrap.
Automakers will be responsible and pay for much of the process. Along with steelmakers, the automakers will develop incentives for companies that remove the mercury before scrapping.
Automakers formed the End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corporation in September to manage the program.
Mr. Johnson predicted that the program would remove 75 tons of mercury over the next 15 years.
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