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Enviro-Mich message from Jeff Gearhart <jeffg@ecocenter.org>



Jeff Gearhart, Ecology Center, 734-663-2400 x117
Alexandra McPherson, Great Lakes United, 716-886-0142
Dean Menke, Environmental Defense, 202-387-3500 x138

Despite 1995 Commitments To End Its Use, US Automakers Continue To 
Use Mercury In Autos

(Detroit) Automobiles are one of the nation's largest sources of 
toxic mercury emissions, according to two studies, Toxics in 
Vehicles: Mercury and Toxic by Design released today by leading 
environmental organizations.  Despite practical, inexpensive 
alternatives and industry commitments to phase out its use, mercury 
continues to be widely used in new automobiles.  Mercury is highly 
toxic to humans and wildlife and is released when automobiles are 
scrapped.  The organizations called on US automakers to immediately 
eliminate the use of mercury in autos. 

Toxics in Vehicles: Mercury - a collaboration of the Ecology Center 
in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Great Lakes United, based in Buffalo, New 
York, and the University of Tennessee Center for Clean Products and 
Clean Technologies - documents how dangerous levels of mercury are 
released into the environment once cars leave the road and enter 
vehicle disposal and recycling processes.

The bulk of mercury releases occur when contaminated steel, recovered 
from scrap automobiles, is melted in electric arc furnaces (EAFs). 
The study estimates that EAFs emit 15.6 metric tons of mercury each 
year, which is more than all manufacturing sources combined. 
Automobiles are likely the single largest source of 
mercury-contaminated scrap.  The report finds that EAFs are not only 
the largest manufacturing source of mercury air emissions in the US, 
but the fourth largest overall-behind only coal-fired power 
plants(utility and commercial/industrial boilers), and municipal 
waste incinerators.

"Our report clearly documents how the unnecessary use of mercury in 
automobiles is the primary culprit in contaminating the scrap steel 
recycling and recovery system," said Charles Griffith, Auto Project 
Director at the Ecology Center.  "These new findings show that the 
auto industry is one of the nation's largest sources of mercury 

According to the second report - Toxic by Design, released by 
Environmental Defense - auto manufacturers have continued to use 
mercury in product design and purchasing decisions despite known 
concerns and the availability of practical, cost-effective 
alternatives.  The report also finds that mercury is released by the 
manufacturers of automotive switches.

"The automobile industry has known about this problem for nearly a 
decade, and in 1995, the largest US automakers agreed to stop using 
mercury.  But the industry has failed to end mercury use in autos, 
despite the existence of practical, low-cost alternatives," said Dean 
Menke, Environmental Defense engineer.  "This study demonstrates that 
faster, more decisive action is critically needed to eliminate 
existing mercury uses and prevent the introduction of new uses in 
years to come."

Approximately 175 to 200 metric tons of mercury are in vehicles on 
the road today, primarily in mercury switches in hood and trunk 
lighting and anti-lock braking systems.  One auto mercury switch 
contains nearly one gram of mercury, equivalent to the amount of 
mercury found in household fever thermometers, which are now being 
banned by many city and state governments due to increasing concern 
about the health risks resulting from the disposal of mercury 
containing products.  While U.S. manufacturers continue to use 
mercury switches, international automakers such as Toyota, Volvo and 
BMW have completely eliminated mercury switch applications since 1993.

The findings of both reports support an action plan developed by the 
national Clean Car Campaign that effectively addresses this mercury 
problem in automobiles.  The action plan calls on U.S. automakers to 
immediately eliminate the use of mercury switches in new cars and 
trucks,  label component parts and vehicles that contain mercury, and 
take responsibility for the removal and safe collection of mercury 
switches in the existing fleet of vehicles currently on the road. 
These recommendations are also backed by over 50 environmental and 
public health groups. 

"Just as we expect automakers to take responsibility-and even 
recall-vehicles that pose safety or environmental hazards while on 
the road, they also need to address the serious hazards once their 
products are sent to the scrap heap," said Alexandra McPherson, Clean 
Production Coordinator at Great Lakes United.  "This is the Firestone 
problem in a different form, with mercury harming people once the 
cars are off the road." 

Both reports are available for viewing or downloading on-line, at: 

The Ecology Center is a regional grassroots environmental 
organization, which works for clean air and water, healthy 
communities, and environmental justice. The Auto Project of the 
Ecology Center works to address the toxic and health issues related 
to the production of automobiles and promotes cleaner vehicle 

Great Lakes United is an international coalition dedicated to 
preserving and protecting the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River 
ecosystem.  Great Lakes United develops and promotes effective policy 
initiatives, carries out educational programs and promotes citizen 
action to assure clean water and air for all citizens.

Environmental Defense, a leading national nonprofit organization 
based in New York, represents more than 300,000 members.  Since 1967 
we have linked science, economics, and law to create innovative, 
equitable, and cost-effective solutions to the most urgent 
environmental problems.


Jeff Gearhart
Campaign Director
Ecology Center
117 N. Division
Ann Arbor, MI  48104
(734)663-2400 x117
(734)663-2414 fx.


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