GM Dropout Endangers Vehicle Mercury Switch Recycling Program

August 19, 2009

In the last few years, a national program has successfully recycled more than 2.5 million acorn-sized mercury-containing switches from convenience lights and antilock brakes in vehicles built during the 1980s and 1990s. Now, GM apparently is defaulting on money owed to the program — just as the US government's smash-hit cash-for-clunkers program is causing the retirement of many older vehicles.

This in turn could cause the mercury recycling program's collapse, allowing much of that mercury to escape into the environment at local junkyards around the country. You may find a story by checking in with your local junkyards and auto recyclers.

On Aug. 10, 2009, the Associated Press reported that since GM filed for bankruptcy, it has not paid its dues to the End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corp — an auto industry partnership created in 2005 to prevent mercury emissions when vehicles are crushed and shredded. ELVS executive director Mary Bills told AP that GM's "annual [ELVS] bill is $700,000 to $1 million, a substantial portion of the program's funding. Without GM's payments, the organization may be forced to scale back or cease operations."

  • AP story.
  • GM HQ switchboard (no current press contact info available): 313-556-5000.
  • ELVS: 248-788-6656.

About 40 million mercury switches were used in trunk convenience lights and antilock brakes in vehicles built in the 1980s and 1990s. According to AP, more than half of these are in GM vehicles built before 2000.

On Aug. 13, the Automobile Recyclers Association called for GM to continue with the ELVS program. Contact: Jennifer Johnson, 571-208-0428.

The home page of the ELVS site, offers a clickable US map for information on mercury switch collection and recycling efforts by state.

ELVS is largely responsible for implementing EPA's National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program, slated to run through 2017.

ELVS in turn contracts with EQ ("The environmental quality company") to work directly with automotive dismantlers and recyclers to collect the switches. Scroll to the bottom of that page to find a searchable database of participating recyclers by state (including addresses and contact info), as well as data on the number of switches and amount of mercury recovered by state as of 2008.

Mercury switch recycling efforts face other funding challenges. Originally EPA offered incentive payments to recyclers. However, that fund became depleted in July 2009. An EPA notice at the top of the NVMSRP page reads: "Notice to all NVMSRP Mercury Switch Collection Participants: The NVMSRP voluntary incentive fund is now depleted. Incentive payments will continue in states where they are required by law (AR, IL, IA, MA, NJ, RI, UT, MD) or have a state funded program (NC, SC,WA) but have ceased in voluntary states. All other aspects of the switch collection program will continue. You are strongly encouraged to continue removing switches and the program will continue to accept these switches at no cost to participants."