Bill expands disposal options to further contain threat of pollution

MADISON — A bill that has gained bipartisan support in the Wisconsin Legislature by encouraging recycling of old mercury thermostats would help reduce the health and environmental risks of this harmful toxin.

“It’s scary to think that it only takes one gram of mercury a year, less than the amount in a single thermostat, to contaminate a 20-acre lake over time,” said Amber Meyer Smith, Clean Wisconsin’s director of government relations. “The health impacts of mercury are undeniable, and this bill is a crucial next step to reduce this toxin in our environment for the health of all Wisconsinites.”

The Mercury Thermostat Recycling Bill (AB 424), introduced by Rep. Chris Taylor and Sen. Mark Miller, is currently being circulated for co-sponsorship in the state Capitol. Although it’s estimated that tens of millions of mercury thermostats remain in use throughout the nation , Wisconsin relies on a voluntary industry-led program that has recycled less than one in 10 mercury-containing thermostats over the last decade, resulting in tons of mercury being improperly discarded. If successful, Wisconsin would be the 12th state to pass a mercury thermostat disposal law.

“When research indicates that one in six women of childbearing age in the U.S. may have mercury levels in their blood that are unsafe for a developing fetus, we know there’s a problem we need to do something about,” said Rep. Taylor. “As a mother of two young boys, I want to do everything I can to eliminate the environmental causes of developmental delays and give all children a healthy future.”

EPA estimates that more than 10,000 infants born each year in Wisconsin are at risk of developing health issues because they’ve been exposed to elevated levels of mercury. This potent toxin can affect the brain, liver and kidneys, and cause developmental disorders in children. Mercury exposure comes from contamination of our fish, air, soil and water, and every inland body of water in Wisconsin is already under a fish consumption advisory because of mercury pollution.

“We want to increase convenience and incentives to get more people recycling their old thermostats, just like we did with the successful Electronic Waste program in 2009,” added Sen. Miller.