There is no 100% stable mercury amalgamation method at this time or long-term retirement strategy although there is a lot of work going on in these areas nationally and globally. In April/May 2002 the U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL) supported a major conference to analyze the technical alternatives for long-term mercury management and retirement. The Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association (NEWMOA) organized the conference under a cooperative agreement with EPA and as part of that work we have posted a compendium of speaker presentations on our website at the following address:
In the absence of a retirement strategy or technological fix, we need a menu of approaches to tackle the overall issue of safe use and management of mercury. Recycling of mercury from mercury added products is part of that. It ensures safe handling and recovery of the mercury, preventing releases that otherwise would have occurred during transportation and disposal.
A successful mercury management strategy should also include the establishment of collection systems for mercury-added products to improve recycling rates. Due diligence must be exercised when establishing “recycling” contracts to ensure that the mercury from mercury-added products that are being recycled through these contracts are actually being recycled and not being disposed of as hazardous waste. Ultimately it would be great if we stopped putting mercury into all products, but in the mean time it is better to use recycled mercury for this purpose than to mine for virgin mercury. Secondary mercury mining will continue, but to the extent we can limit or eliminate the primary mining of virgin mercury we will do a lot to prevent fugitive emissions from virgin mining processes.
The merits of recycling and reusing mercury over mining virgin mercury have been made in this thread but are worth repeating. Recycling results in less mining and less fugitive emissions from mining and fewer releases to the environment that result from landfilling or incineration. I don’t think it is a question of whether or not recycling is worth it but rather how can we distill the arguments listed above and throughout this thread into a message that we can pass on to the general public when communicating with them about collection programs. Any thoughts folks have would be appreciated.
The issue of removal of functioning products was raised in this thread. Removing these devices before the end of their useful like shortens decreases the benefit recognized of the energy and materials costs that went into making them. On the other hand, designated change-out programs ensure that the device and the mercury in it are being handled in the most responsible way available. These programs also prevent accidental releases that can occur by devices breaking during use or when they reach the end of their useful life and are removed. Many people are unaware of the risks associated with the mercury-containing devices or are even unaware of the fact that the devices contain mercury and therefore they improperly dispose of them. It could be argued then that what we need is long term education and outreach programs that raise awareness about these issues and the establishment of sustained collection programs that are set up to handle these devices as they reach the end of their useful life. I think this is a goal worth working for, but in the mean time it is my personal view that concerted efforts should be made to remove mercury-added products from settings where they put sensitive populations at risk, such as in schools.
For more information model mercury in products legislation that the Northeast states have put together, some of which has been passed by states in the Northeast and elsewhere visit:
Below are some other online resources to help inform folks interested in some of the issues raised in this thread.
One example of a collection program that was mentioned in this thread is the TRC. NEWMOA conducted a phone survey of the electrical wholesale firms in the Northeast who participate in the Thermostat Recycling Corporation's (TRC) program to collect used mercury-containing thermostats. NEMWOA published the results of this survey online at:
Other resources that provide a lot of background for folks interested in tackling mercury issues are the P2Rx Topic Hubs. There are Topic Hubs specifically addressing the issues of mercury in dentistry, automotives, thermostats, thermometers, schools and health care. These sector/product specific Topic Hubs contain background information for people coming up to speed with the issues related to mercury in these areas. The Hubs also contains collections of online publications that assistance providers can leverage in their efforts. Additionally, there is a general mercury hub that has a wealth of information on mercury in the environment, health effects of mercury, and different strategies for addressing mercury issues. Below are links to the Topic Hubs.
Mercury Topic Hub
Mercury-Health Care Hub (by the
Mercury-Schools (by the
National Mercury Reduction Programs Database (http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/programs/)
This is a collection of programs carried out by federal, state and local agencies focused on reducing mercury emissions. This includes any thing from educational programs to collection programs to legislative and policy initiatives. It is intended to act as an information sharing tool for programs interested in starting or expanding mercury reduction programs in their area to be able to visit the site and learn about what others have done and who they can contact for more information on various strategies/initiatives. If your program isn’t listed in the database and you would like to have it listed please email me or use the online form available at the link above (“Add a Project”) to add the information yourself.
Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association (NEWMOA)
(617) 367-8558 ext. 306
NEWMOA is a proud member of P2Rx - a national network of regional P2 information centers