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Serious environmental and human health effects result from the release
of mercury contained in electrical switches used in vehicle lighting and
braking systems as well as contained in LED lights and headlamps when vehicles
are scrapped and enter the steel recycling infrastructure.
It is estimated that automobiles in the US will be responsible for the
environmental release of up to 493,000 pounds of mercury from the estimated
217 million auto switches installed in vehicles from 1974-2003. Nearly 50%,
or over 246,000 pounds, of that has already been released. Over 54,000 pounds
of mercury from the switches have been released into the environment since
As a part of the Partnership for Mercury Free Vehicles, the GrassRoots
Recycling Network is addressing this issue closely in Wisconsin. The estimated
260,000 vehicles retired in Wisconsin in 2003 contained nearly 300 pounds
of mercury from over 160,000 convenience light and brake system switches.
Mercury in vehicle switches poses a danger to human health, to the environment,
and to several important sectors of the Wisconsin economy. The solution
is to mandate mercury switch removal by all dismantlers and to establish
a producer-financed system that provides an incentive to the dismantlers,
ensures continued funding of the program, and forces producers to take responsibility
for the design problems they have created.
The time for action is now. After years of unnecessary delay, the automakers
ceased using mercury switches in 2003. However, until those 2003 models are
retired, every year that goes by represents another 300 pounds of mercury that
are potentially released from retired automobiles in Wisconsin as well as 18,000
pounds throughout the US.
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