GM Called on to Cover Mercury Recycling Costs in Cash for Clunkers Program

GM Called on to Cover Mercury Recycling Costs in Cash for Clunkers Program

The recovery of thousands of pounds of Mercury is at risk.

At the same time old clunkers have poured in to be scrapped, "new" General Motors (GM) has apparently decided it’s not responsible for the recycling of mercury switches from its vehicles.

According to industry estimates, GM models represent 54% of all vehicles containing mercury. Environmentalists estimate that turned-in "clunker" vehicles alone contain more than 1,000 pounds of mercury. GM’s failure to pay for switch recovery efforts means that more than 50% of this mercury could potentially be released into the environment.

“With vehicles pouring into scrap yards under the Cash for Clunkers program, GM should pay its fair share," said Michael Bender, director of the Vermont-based Mercury Policy Project. “GM’s lack of support leaves others in the lurch. It also detracts further from the financing necessary for the national program to operate effectively.”

Nationally, according to industry estimates, GM models now on the road contain more than 18 million mercury switches (39,000 pounds). With Cash for Clunkers adding many more mercury-containing vehicles to the end-of-life pool, it’s extremely unfortunate timing for a major supporter to be walking away from the table, say environmentalists.

Mercury switches were used to operate hood and trunk convenience lights in vehicles made before 2004, when automakers stopped their use. Upward of 100 million of these devices were used in vehicles. Unless they are removed first, the mercury from auto switches is released to the air when vehicles are recycled at steel mills. This source contributes to both local and global mercury pollution and contamination of fish.

Mercury, particularly in the methylmercury form, is a potent neurotoxin that can impair neurological development in fetuses and young children and damage the nervous system of adults. It is toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative. Mercury can be deposited in water, soils, and air where microorganisms can convert it into the highly toxic methlymercury. Methlymercury is also created by combustion of mercury-containing materials like auto switches.

Last month, a separate fund that helped pay financial incentives to auto dismantlers for turning in switches ran out of cash, so the program was already strapped for cash.

“GM should not hide behind a bankruptcy proceeding as an excuse for not meeting its on-going obligation to fund a vital program for keeping mercury out of the environment,” said Charles Griffith, with the Michigan-based Ecology Center. “Americans should demand that in return for the benefits it received under Cash for Clunkers, the company continue meeting its obligations to fund legacy mercury recovery costs from GM end-of-life vehicles.”

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