March 22, 2012

Assembly Bill Protects New Yorkers
From the Toxic Effects of Mercury

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Bob Sweeney today announced passage of legislation that will decrease mercury pollution by encouraging the safe collection of mercury-containing thermostats.

"When released into the environment, mercury causes serious health problems," said Silver. "Mercury-containing thermostats are a significant source of mercury. This collection program would be a major step towards protecting New Yorkers, especially pregnant women and children from the toxic effects of mercury."

The bill (A.3485-A) amends the Environmental Conservation Law to require those who make, distribute, and sell thermostats containing mercury to establish collection programs. Mercury exposure poses significant health risks including neurological impairments. Promoting the collection of mercury-containing thermostats helps safeguard those who are most at risk - pregnant women and children.

Under the measure, those who make and sell mercury-containing thermostats are required to submit a collection plan for out-of-service thermostats to the Department of Environmental Conservation. The legislation establishes collection goals and, in order to achieve them, plan sponsors may offer financial incentives but must include an education and outreach program, plans for the safe disposal of used thermostats, and plans to promote mercury-free alternatives. None of the costs of these programs would be passed along to consumers, contractors, or service technicians.

"Once released into the environment, mercury can affect nervous system development in newborns and infants," said Sweeney, the bill's sponsor. "This legislation helps safeguard against contamination and promotes safer and energy-efficient alternatives."

Over 300,000 mercury-containing thermostats come off the wall each year with most ending up in landfills or incinerators with the potential for mercury releases.