DEP Highlights Benefits Of Mercury-Free Thermostat Law
Pennsylvanians are at lower risk of exposure to mercury as a result of the Mercury Free Thermostat Act, which took effect on December 8. The law bans the sale, installation and disposal of mercury-containing thermostats and requires contractors and homeowners to recycle out-of-service thermostats.
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that affects the brain and nervous system, especially in pregnant women, women of child-bearing years, and children. Mercury accumulates in the environment and can remain active for thousands of years.
"Mercury thermostats were a staple of the heating and cooling industry for decades. Millions of homes and businesses used them and continue to use them safely," said Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary for Waste, Air and Radiation Protection Kenneth Reisinger. "But when out-of-service mercury thermostats are broken, disposed of in landfills or incinerated, the mercury can contaminate the air, surface water and ground water and threaten human health and the safety of the environment.
"Mercury thermostats are being replaced by more innovative and efficient models, which, over their useful life spans, can save consumers thousands of dollars in energy savings. And, thanks to the new law, there is a simple and easy method of properly collecting and recycling out-of-service thermostats."
Under the new law, only mercury-free thermostats can be sold in Pennsylvania. In addition, manufacturers that have sold mercury thermostats in the state must collect and recycle waste mercury thermostats at no cost to contractors and homeowners.
Wholesalers located in Pennsylvania must serve as collection sites for the thermostats. The law also requires retailers and contractors to either participate as collection points or provide notice to customers that mercury thermostats must be recycled and identify locations of nearby collection points.
The new requirements will reduce the health and environmental risks associated with improperly disposing of out-of-service mercury thermostats, according to Reisinger, who spoke at Shipley Energy in York and was joined by representatives of the Thermostat Recycling Corp. and HVAC trade associations.
Shipley Energy has been recycling out-of-service mercury thermostats for its customers since 2002. Today's event highlighted the benefits of the program and demonstrated the ease of participating in Pennsylvania's mercury thermostat recycling program.
A single mercury thermostat contains approximately 4 grams of mercury. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates between 6 and 8 tons of mercury are discarded improperly each year in solid waste facilities and between 1 and 2 tons are released into the air.
DEP recently approved two plans for manufacturers to establish collection and recycling programs in Pennsylvania. Thermostat Recycling Corp. is a nonprofit organization that represents 28 manufacturers nationwide that have distributed more than 70 brands of mercury thermostats.
Collection sites sponsored by the organization will accept all brands of mercury thermostats.
EWC Controls Inc. recycles EWC brand name thermostats it sold through its wholesale operations.
Both companies voluntarily collected thermostats in advance of the law's effective date.
Thermostat Recycling Corp. collected 7,560 thermostats in 2008 and more than 37,000 since 2000, removing 356 pounds of mercury from the environment.
Pennsylvania is one of nine states to have passed laws governing mercury thermostats, which ban their sale and/or requires them to be recycled.
For more information, visit the Mercury Free Thermostats webpage or call DEP's Bureau of Waste Management at 717-787-6239.
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