Go for Broke! Unintended Toxic Consequences

by Kas

In August 2006, the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program (NVMSRP) was established by the USEPA in a cooperative effort with auto manufacturers, steelmakers, dismantlers, shredders, State governments, environmentalists, and trade associations.  The NVMSRP was designed to recover mercury-containing materials from scrap vehicles, specifically mercury switches used in convenience lighting (the reason the light turns on when the trunk is opened).

The NVMSRP was designed to be implemented at the State level.  Currently, 15 States have programs that are either required by law and/or funded by State dollars.  The remaining 34 States voluntarily participate in the NVMSRP and rely on incentives to fund their programs.

The End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corporation (ELVS) is a non-profit company formed by the automotive industry to promote the industry’s environmental efforts in recycling, education, outreach and proper management of substances of concern.  ELVS manages, on a nationwide basis, programs to collect, transport, retort, recycle, or dispose of automotive mercury switches.  They are the source of incentive funding for States who voluntarily participate in the NVMSRP.

General Motors (GM) was one of the largest contributing member of ELVS, until recently, when after emerging from bankruptcy court reorganization, the decision was made that GM will no longer financially contribute.

Read more here and here.

The NVMSRP was intended to function until 2017 or until mercury switches are no longer an issue.  The NVMSRP voluntary incentive fund is now depleted.

It is estimated that 36 million mercury switches were used in trunk lights and other automotive parts built since the 1980s.  How many of them will be voluntarily recovered?

Wagering an environmentally-friendly initiative on an unsustainable industry was a bad idea.

 

Kas is an industrial hygienist studying public health in the DC metro area.

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