AG Coakley and States Ask GM to Maintain Funding for National Mercury Switch Recycling Program
In today's letter, the states argue that the collection and recycling of mercury switches from end-of-life vehicles "is the most cost-effective method to prevent mercury from being emitted into the environment and posing significant risks of harm to human health." It is well-established that exposure to mercury by eating contaminated fish or by breathing mercury fumes can cause serious health effects including damage to the nervous system, kidneys, liver and immune system.
View PDF of letter sent to General Motors, LLC:Letter sent January 28, 2011
"The National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program protects the public health of our children and residents at relatively low costs by removing mercury from the waste stream before it gets emitted into the environment," stated Attorney General Coakley. "This is a highly successful and effective program and we urge New GM to continue to fund the program."
"There are hundreds of thousands of children in the United States exposed to unacceptable levels of mercury released into the environment every year," said Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) Commissioner Kenneth L. Kimmell. "Massachusetts is a world leader in efforts to reduce mercury pollution, but to fully address the problem we also need companies like New GM to commit to actions that will prevent mercury pollution. I anticipate that New GM will live up to its billing as an environmentally-responsible company and commit to protecting public health by contributing to this program."
In 2006, to promote nationwide consistency, automobile manufacturers and others created the NVMSRP as a voluntary, nation-wide program to comply with the various mandatory state laws and voluntary state programs. To date, the auto manufacturer with the largest contribution to the program - at 54% based on market share of vehicles with mercury-containing switches - has been the company formerly known as GM, which filed for bankruptcy and is now called Motors Liquidation Company ("Old GM").
To date, "under the NVMSRP, over 3.48 million switches have been collected and recycled, which represent about 7,650 pounds of mercury having been diverted from the waste stream, much of which otherwise would have been emitted into the environment."
Once Old GM's bankruptcy proceeding concludes, which is approaching, it will stop funding the NVMSRP, thereby jeopardizing the viability of the program going forward.
In the letter, AG Coakley and the other states cite their belief that New GM "has a corporate responsibility, arising out of fairness, equity and common business sense, to participate in NVMSRP." They explain that this is based on the fact that the program is "highly successful and efficient both economically and environmentally;" that "New GM has benefited from billions of dollars of taxpayer money and the government-funded Cash for Clunkers program, which stimulated sales of New GM vehicles by drawing more autos into end-of-life-status;" and that because the NVMSRP "is set to expire in 2017 when most of the mercury-containing vehicles are expected to be off the road, New GM's financial commitment will be relatively limited."
AG Coakley and the other states also point out that New GM touts its corporate responsibility with regard to the environment, stating on its own website, that: "When our vehicles reach the end of their useful life for their owners, we want to ensure that what happens to those vehicles is responsible for the environment."
The letter sent today was signed by the Attorney Generals of Massachusetts, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, and Vermont along with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Carol Iancu of Attorney General Coakley's Environmental Protection Division, with assistance of Jennifer Davis and Robert W. Ritchie of MassDEP's Office of General Counsel and Mark Smith of MassDEP's Office of Research and Standards.