January 30, 2002

See background info
Contacts: David Wood
GRRN Program Director

Michael Bender
Mercury Policy Project

Groups Expose "Mercury Product Pushers"
Manufacturers Fight Phase-Out, Shun Responsibility

Athens, GA -- In state legislatures across the country, industries that make mercury-containing products are fighting legislation requiring them to phase-out or take back their toxic products. A new report, Menacing Mercury Product Pushers, released today by the Zero Mercury Campaign and GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN), disputes the claims of these industries, including manufacturers of fluorescent lamps, thermostats, computers, automobiles, and cleaning products. The report calls on those industries to clean up their products and urges state legislatures to protect consumers and the environment from mercury-containing consumer products.

"Mercury contamination of Wisconsin's environment is well known, and attention is being paid to reducing mercury emissions from coal-burning electric generating plants. Wisconsin needs to follow the lead of other states and protect its people and environment against mercury released from common household and consumer products," says David Wood, Madison-based Program Director of GrassRoots Recycling Network. "The principle of producer responsibility is most applicable to products containing hazardous materials and for which appropriate substitutes are available. With mercury phase-out and take back legislation in the works here, today's report is critical to understanding the scope of the problem and the flaws in industry arguments," continues Wood.

GRRN is a North American network of recycling professionals and waste reduction activists promoting producer responsibility and Zero Waste. The report released today is available on-line at

Among other recommendations, the report calls for the phase-out of mercury added to products, labeling of the products during the phase-out to caution consumers of the mercury contained in the product, as well as requiring the manufacturers of the products to take financial responsibility for the collection and proper long term storage of the mercury thereby easing the financial strain on municipal and state coffers.

"Forty-one states, including Wisconsin, now warn the public to limit consumption of fish due to high levels of mercury, and part of this contamination is linked to man-made activities, including the disposal of mercury consumer products," continues Wood. "Consumer products containing mercury must be phased out in favor of safer alternatives and brand owners must take full responsibility for the life cycle of their products."

Since 1998, a number of actions have been proposed and adopted to reduce mercury emissions and exposures. With wide stakeholder input, the Northeast Waste Management Officials Association (NEWMOA) developed the Mercury Education and Reduction Act (see mercury section of The NEWMOA model mercury legislation includes provisions for the notification, phase-outs and exemptions, labeling, disposal ban, collection and manufacturer responsibility, public education and outreach, and control on the sale of elemental mercury.

At least 10 states (and counting) have passed legislation modeled after some of the provisions contained in NEWMOA's model mercury bill, but much more remains to be done keep mercury in products from

polluting fish, the environment and people.

"The Mercury Product Pusher report is intended to help decision makers screen out the claims of the mercury product manufacturers and understand both the feasibility and necessity of implementing recommended mercury regulations," continues GRRN's David Wood.

Some Key Report Findings:

· While Toyota and Honda stopped using mercury products in the early 1990s, the big three U.S. auto manufacturers - Ford, General Motors and Daimler Chrysler - have promised to voluntarily stop using mercury components in light switches since 1995. Despite the promise, in 2000, four million mercury-containing light and ABS switches were installed in vehicles sold in the United States; Ford introduced new mercury-containing head lamps in seven different models in 2001 and 2002 cars.

· Lamp makers have refused to label their products as toxic so that consumers can make informed choices about purchase, use and disposal.

· Honeywell, which controls 70% of the thermostat market, insists that an industry-sponsored voluntary recycling program is preventing the disposal of old mercury thermostats, but according the research covering New England states the Thermostat Recycling Corporation only captures one to five percent of the thermostats disposed in each year.

· The Electronics Industry Alliance claims that the amount of mercury in computers is small and regulations on the use of mercury in electronics will have a negligible impact on the environment. However, even one gram of airborne mercury annually deposited to a 20-acre lake is enough to prompt state health department warnings that fish are unsafe to eat.

· The Soap and Detergent Association claims that because manufacturers of cleaning products don't directly add mercury to their products, they should not have to test and report their mercury content. However, the manufacturers could choose to purchase their ingredients from producers who use a non-mercury process that would eliminate the risk of mercury in the final product. Consumers, especially hospitals working to reduce their mercury emissions, have the right and need to know how much mercury is in the products they purchase.

"This report shows a consistent pattern of mercury product manufacturers seeking to evade responsibility for the environmental and health problems caused by their products," says David Wood. "GRRN and The Zero Mercury Campaign urge state law makers to see through these false claims and to borrow from the experience of other states to develop mercury-product legislation that guarantees maximum protection of our health and our environment."

Mercury Product Pushers was produced by the New England Zero Mercury Campaign. The Campaign was,formed to urge the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers to establish a timeline to eliminate mercury emissions by 2010 and to promote effective and protective health warnings about the dangers of eating mercury-contaminated fish. Partners in the New England Zero Mercury Campaign include Clean Water Action, Health Care Without Harm, the Mercury Policy Project, the National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Sierra Club, and the Toxics Action Center.


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