In an effort to boost mercury recycling in the state and prevent the harmful substance from continuing to find its way into landfills and water sources, the Massachusetts General Court passed a new state law urging any person or contractor replacing a thermostat containing mercury to deliver it to an appropriate collection site for recycling.
The bill, which contains similar language for those replacing certain fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, thermometers and other devices containing mercury, was met with support from industry groups, including the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC). TRC is offering HVAC equipment distributors a free thermostat recycling container. Call 1 (888) 266-0550 or visit www.thermostat-recycle.org for more information.
“It wasn’t so long ago that most people would just toss them in the trash,” said Brian Chapman, President of Mill City Environmental, a Lowell, MA-based waste management company.
Mercury is an element with extremely toxic qualities to exposed humans, even in small doses. In addition to the physical effects of mercury poisoning itself, a potential link has been observed between childhood mercury exposure and the occurrence of Young’s syndrome later in life.
Not everyone is applauding the new law. Critics who argue that regulations in neighboring states—and even those previously on the books in Massachusetts—are much more restrictive depict the new law as a weak nod to industry.
“With this weak bill, it’s unlikely that we’ll see significant reductions in mercury pollution from thermostats and light bulbs without extremely aggressive actions and enforcement by the state.” said Elizabeth Saunders, Massachusetts State Director for Clean Water Action.
Mark Kohorst, spokesman for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) disagreed.
“The targets ascended to completely unobtainable levels,” he said. “This paralyzed manufacturers for behavior totally out of their control. It became apparent that the law was unworkable and nonsensical.”
Unlike the financial incentive-based programs implemented in Maine and Vermont, Massachusetts will collect $300,000 in fees from thermostat and light bulb manufacturers to promote the recycling program. The law replaces a previously-existing policy to fine manufacturers that didn’t meet state recycling goals by up to $1 million. Evidence shows those fines were never paid or actively enforced.
Scott Cassel, CEO of the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), pointed out that the new program makes Massachusetts and Connecticut the only states with thermostat recycling laws on the books lacking performance goals, incentives and punitive measures for violations.
“We would have liked to see a stronger law,” he said.