Governor Signs Jaffee Mercury-Protection Bill Into Law

May 31, 2011

Albany, NY – In a major victory for the health of New York consumers, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) that makes it easier to take mercury-added products off the shelves has been signed in to law by Governor Cuomo.

“Environmental quality and public health go hand-in-hand, and ensuring safeguards for our environment is critical to safeguarding New Yorkers,” Jaffee said. “This bill takes strong, direct action to protect the products we use, the water we drink, and the food we eat. I am thrilled it now will enter into law.”

Jaffee’s legislation (A668) is aimed at restricting the sale of mercury-added consumer products by closing a long-standing loophole that hampered state regulators from restricting the sale of the toxin-laced goods.

Existing law gives the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) authority to ban mercury-added products when there are alternative non-mercury products of comparable effectiveness and price available. However, this authority has been difficult to exercise because it applies to whole categories of products; if even one item in a given category does not have a viable alternative, then all the other related mercury-added products cannot be banned.

Jaffee’s legislation ends this regulatory shortcoming by giving the DEC greater authority and clearer guidelines to enforce its mission of banning mercury-added consumer products, in part through a new waiver system that can exempt certain items in a category of products in order to allow for a ban on others within that same category.

As a public health threat, mercury has been proven to impair brain development. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated 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.

Currently, when products containing mercury are discarded, they often enter the waste stream, polluting soil, drinking water sources, and aquatic habitats. In rivers and the ocean, mercury can also bioaccumulate, tainting the food chain up to the point where it can harm consumers.

This law will hasten the adoption of new, safer alternatives to many common mercury-added household products, including thermostats and thermometers, as well as ensure the disposal of existing mercury-added products is conducted in an environmentally safe manner.

“Never should a loophole allow mercury to get into the hands and bodies of children, and with this legislation we are making sure it doesn’t,” Jaffee added.