Reducing Mercury in Maryland's Environment
Mercury is quite toxic to living organisms. Mercury can easily change forms and cycle in the environment from air to land to water and then back to air. Exposure to mercury occurs from breathing contaminated air, ingesting contaminated water and food, and having dental and medical treatments. Mercury is found in most National Priorities List sites.
Skin Cream Containing Mercury Warning
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) has issued a warning to consumers about certain skin creams that may contain mercury. One such product, labeled "Crema Aguamary," and purchased in Mexico, was brought into Maryland and is thought to be responsible for at least one case of mercury poisoning in the State.
Consumers who have face cream that they believe contains mercury should seal the jar in a plastic bag or leak-proof container and dispose of it in their household trash.
For more information on the warning, visit DHMH.
Compact Fluorescent Lamps
Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are an important tool in efforts to reduce energy use, which benefits air and water quality and addresses climate change.
CFLs have several advantages over incandescent light bulbs. They last 8-10 times longer, use about 75% less energy, and produce 90% less heat while delivering more light per Watt. For example, a 25Watt CFL provides about 1800 lumens, whereas 100Watt incandescent lamp provides 1750 lumens. Use of CFLs reduces electricity use and the amount of pollutants such as nitrogen, mercury, and carbon dioxide emitted from power plants.
CFL bulbs contain up to 5 milligrams of mercury, the amount that would cover the tip of a ballpoint pen, as compared to older home thermostats and mercury fever thermometers, which contain between 500 to 30,000 milligrams of mercury.
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) urges consumers to use care when handling CFLs by screwing and unscrewing the bulb by the base. If a CFL bulb breaks, the amount of mercury released can evaporate into the air where it will likely remain at a level below safety standards set by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
CFL bulbs should be recycled after use, if at all possible. MDE strongly encourages consumers to take advantage of available local recycling options for used CFL bulbs. Some counties in Maryland have permanent sites for Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collection, including CFLs, while others have collection events on certain dates throughout the year. Information about programs in individual counties can be found in the County Fluorescent Lamp Recycling Chart and Fluorescent Lamp FAQs. Additionally, many companies also offer fluorescent light recycling. If recycling is not an option, a CFL bulb may be placed in the household trash.
Mercury-Added Products - Prohibition of Sale of Thermostats and Report
Mercury-Added Products - Prohibition of Sale of Thermostats and Report prohibits a specified marketer from selling or providing a thermostat containing mercury to a consumer.
Mercury Switch Removal From Vehicles Law
On May 19, 2009, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed House Bill 1263 – Mercury Switch Removal from Vehicles. The law requires motor vehicle manufacturers, individually or as a group, to develop and submit to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), by September 30, 2009, a mercury minimization plan that includes information on mercury switch removal from motor vehicles. The law allows vehicle manufacturers that already have processes and procedures in place that meet or exceed the requirements of Maryland’s law to use those processes and procedures in its mercury minimization plan submitted to MDE. The mercury minimization plan must include, at a minimum:
Information regarding the switch locations and methods for the safe removal of mercury switches from end-of-life vehicles;
Proposal for the safe storage, disposal, and recovery of mercury switches and assemblies;
Plan for implementing and financing the removal, collection, and recovery program; and
Information that establishes the financing of the program.
Submittals required as part of the law should be sent to:
Mr. A. Hussain Alhija
Maryland Department of the Environment
Waste Diversion and Operations Program
1800 Washington Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21230-1719
Other provisions of the law include:
- Requiring a vehicle recycler to remove mercury switches from end-of-life vehicle inventory and vehicles processed into the vehicles recycler’s inventory within a certain period of time;
- Providing that certain fees, fines, and penalties resulting from violations of the law be deposited in the State Recycling Trust Fund; and
- Requiring that MDE submit a report to the General Assembly annually.
The October 2009 to September 2010 Collection of Mercury Switches and Mercury Switch Assemblies from Vehicles Report includes information on:
The number of mercury switches and mercury switch assemblies recovered from vehicles;
The capture rate of switch recovery achieved;e number of switches projected to be recovered;
The amount and use of funds paid into the State Recycling Trust Fund for the administration of the law; and
Any recommendations to improve the provisions of the law or to increase the capture rate of mercury switches from vehicles.
To assist interested parties, a factsheet and a list of Frequently Asked Questions summarizing the law have been developed. A copy of HB 1263 is also available along with the statutes in Sections 6-904, 6-905, 6-905.4, 6-905, and 6-905-6 of the Environment Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland.
Questions should be directed to A. Hussain Alhija or Stephen Markowski by email or phone at 410-537-3314 or 800-633-6101 x3314.
National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program (NVMSRP)
In the past, auto switches containing mercury were used to control convenience lighting and antilock braking systems (ABS) in many vehicles manufactured prior to model year 2003. To prevent mercury from leaching into the environment where it can have an adverse impact on natural resources and the environment, switches should be removed from end-of-life vehicles destined for recycling prior to the steel melting process.
The National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program (NVMSRP) was formed as a result of an agreement reached in August 2006, by representatives of dismantlers, automotive steel and scrap industries, environmental groups, a national association of state government environmental agency officials and the EPA. The primary goal of the NVMSRP is to maximize switch collection nationally. A $4 million fund has been established to reward dismantlers/recyclers on a first-come, first-served basis for their efforts by paying $4 per mercury light switch or assembly received and $6 per ABS module received. The NVMSRP compliments the Maryland Healthy Air Act that serves to reduce mercury emissions from Maryland’s large coal burning power plants by 90% at full implementation in 2013. Maryland’s remaining mercury emission sources, including steel melting industries that process end-of-life vehicles, contribute approximately 30% of the airborne mercury emissions. Reducing emissions from these sectors will be beneficial to Maryland’s environment.
End of Life Vehicle Solutions (ELVS), a not for profit corporation formed by the automobile manufacturers, provides educational materials and collects and recycles automotive switches at no cost to dismantlers and recyclers. The program accepts convenience lighting assemblies containing mercury switches, ABS modules containing mercury switches, and the individual switch pellets from convenience lighting assemblies. To join the NVMSRP switch collection program operated by ELVS, contact ELVS at 877-225-ELVS (3587), or visit www.elvsolutions.org. Information may also be obtained through calling A. Hussain Alhija or David Mrgich at MDE at 410-537-3314.
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