ANN ARBOR, MI – The Ecology Center has called for automakers to inject an additional $1.5 million in funding for the state’s auto mercury switch recovery program. “The Michigan Auto Switch/Sweep program announced it is woefully under-funded and will not make a dent in recovering the over 200,000 thousand mercury switches which flow out of Michigan automobiles each year,” stated Jeff Gearhart of the Ecology Center.
The Ecology Center maintains that the program announced by the MDEQ and Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers fails to provide adequate incentives to encourage auto dismantler participation in removing mercury switches from scrapped automobiles. The Ecology Center previously worked with the Michigan DEQ and auto recycling industries to develop a plan which estimated that $1.5 million over four years was needed to capture a significant proportion of the mercury switches. Last year, automakers rejected the proposal and proposed the more modest program.
"While the problem is being recognized by today's announcement," stated Jeff Gearhart, campaign director of the Ecology Center, "the program being proposed isn't going to get the job done. We need a more aggressive program if we hope to stop the mercury from auto switches from getting into Michigan's environment."
More than 50 percent of the mercury in auto switches (over 9,000 lbs.) in the state has already been released to the environment, according to Ecology Center estimates. Urgent action will be needed to establish an effective program throughout the state to collect the remaining switches.
"We believe that automakers should be responsible for the environmental and public health problems created by their poor design decisions," said Gearhart. "The automakers have known about the problem of mercury in their cars since the early 1990s, yet they continue to support only band-aid solutions."
Arkansas and New Jersey have recently adopted legislation which requires automakers to establish switch recovery programs that include education, outreach, and financial incentives to auto dismantlers. These programs mandate that automakers pay an incentive of $2 to $5 per switch to encourage recovery. In addition, automakers are required to provide a per-switch fee to help cover the state’s cost for overseeing the program. Similar legislation is now pending in numerous other states.
The Ecology Center encourages automakers and auto dismantlers to do their part in removing mercury switches from vehicles before they are crushed and sent off to steel mills for recycling. "Whether they participate in this program, or pull out the switches on their own, we need to get the mercury out of those cars," stated Gearhart. "But the MDEQ must also do its part and continue working toward a more effective program.