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For Release: Friday, December 20, 2013

New State Law Will Require Recycling of Mercury Thermostats

Law Protects New Yorkers and the Environment by Ensuring Proper Handling of Hazardous Mercury

A new law signed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo will require manufacturers to collect and recycle mercury-containing thermostats at no cost to consumers, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens announced today. The law implements a statewide thermostat product stewardship program to ensure that hazardous mercury is properly handled, preventing potential adverse health effects and damage to the environment.

"Proper precautions should be taken when mercury thermostats are removed or replaced to prevent breakage and dangerous mercury releases into the environment," Commissioner Martens said. "This new law establishes a program to collect and safely dispose of mercury thermostats, which will protect New Yorkers and our environment. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Governor Cuomo, state legislators, and numerous stakeholders, New York will now have an effective program to curtail potential mercury exposure."

Mercury is found in many older wall-mounted thermostats used to regulate room temperatures. If these thermostats break, they can release mercury into the air, causing adverse health effects when inhaled. Exposure can also occur when mercury thermostats are improperly discarded into the solid waste stream because switches can break or be incinerated, releasing the mercury into the environment.

Beginning July 1, 2014, thermostat manufacturers are required to establish a system for the collection, transport, recycling, disposal and proper management of out-of-service mercury thermostats, and also conduct education and outreach to consumers, thermostat wholesalers, contractors and contractor associations regarding the mercury thermostat collection program. The statewide goal for calendar year 2015 is to collect 15,500 out-of-service mercury thermostats.

Under the law, thermostat manufacturers must offer wholesalers collection containers and participate as collection sites. Manufacturers must also provide collection containers and handling information to all thermostat retailers, qualified contractors and qualified local government authorities that request one. There will be no cost to participate in the program, and consumers will never be charged a fee for disposing of mercury thermostats.

Senator Mark Grisanti, chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "Mercury is a toxic substance that is especially harmful to pregnant women, developing infants and children. Each year over 300,000 mercury thermostats are removed from walls and almost 99 percent of them are sent to landfills and incinerators. This new collection program will require manufacturers to establish and maintain a collection program that will include attainable statewide collection goals. Diverting mercury from the waste stream will protect our air and water supplies and keep the public safe from exposure."

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, chair of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "Mercury has been proven to cause negative health impacts, including impairing brain development. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 300,000 and 630,000 infants each year are born in the United States with mercury levels high enough to be associated with IQ loss. This new law provides, at no cost to consumers, a clear path to remove mercury from the environment."

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, "Mercury in thermostats is a highly toxic pollutant that causes significant harm to children, wildlife and our environment. Removing thermostats from the waste stream and safely disposing of mercury is just good public health policy that will produce meaningful, lasting results for public health protection. A healthier, cleaner New York is a holiday gift everyone will benefit from. CCE is delighted the NYS legislature and Governor Cuomo worked to pass this protective legislation."

Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, "This new law is one of the most important environmental victories in Albany this year. It will reduce the amount of dangerous mercury in our land, air and water and will help get New York families and our environment out of harm's way. Thank you, Governor Cuomo, for enacting one of the environmental community's top priorities, and we applaud the state lawmakers and advocates who paved the way for this important success."

Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), said, "We applaud Governor Cuomo for taking action to reduce mercury pollution in New York. Each year, more than a ton of mercury goes into the waste stream in New York State alone from discarded mercury-containing thermostats. The Mercury Thermostat Collection Act is one of the most significant environmental laws adopted this year, and we look forward to working with the Governor and the Department of Environmental Conservation to make it as effective as possible."

Darren Suarez, director of Government Affairs for The Business Council of New York State, said, "The proper handling of end-of-life material is best done through business-government partnerships. Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation should be applauded for expanding a program that will result in effective partnerships and culminate in the safe handling of a significant number of end-of-life mercury containing thermostats."

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