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Post date: July 2 2001

States Call For Removal Of Toxic Car Part

Attorney General Spitzer and his counterparts from 25 other states and territories announced a new effort to encourage the auto industry to replace a car part that has been identified as a significant source of air and groundwater pollution.

The attorneys general are calling on the Ford Motor Company to replace hood and trunk light switches that contain mercury, a highly toxic substance that causes severe health effects, including brain, kidney and fetal damage. In a letter to Ford, the 26 attorneys general urged the company to replace the switches as part of Ford's ongoing general recall of vehicles with defective tires.

"Ford has an opportunity to be an environmental leader," Spitzer said. "As part of its current recall of millions of vehicles, the company could quickly and easily replace hood and trunk light switches that pose a significant environment hazard."

Spitzer noted that Ford and other manufacturers have already taken steps to reduce their use of light switches containing mercury in new vehicles. Implementing a replacement policy for existing vehicles would be a significant step forward, he said.

For years, auto manufacturers have used mercury in hood and trunk light switches. The highly viscous substance flows when tilted to complete a circuit for lighting the interior of the trunk or hood. When the vehicles reach the end of their useful lives, they are sent to junk yards and automotive recyclers, where the mercury may escape and contaminate soil and groundwater during car crushing operations. The scrap then is melted in steel furnaces where the remaining mercury vaporizes into the air. These furnaces, which receive the bulk of the mercury they consume from junked vehicles, are the fourth largest source of airborne mercury emissions nationwide, after power plants, industrial boilers and incinerators.

Six years ago, Ford recognized the dangers of mercury and pledged to stop using mercury switches. Most international auto manufacturers, including Toyota and BMW, no longer sell cars with mercury switches, but they, like Ford, have not implemented a plan to address mercury in cars already on the road. In fact, Ford, like General Motors and Chrysler, previously had pledged to address the problem of mercury switches in existing cars.

"Given the well-documented hazards of mercury, the availability of low cost alternatives, and the ease of replacement, I urge Ford not to let this opportunity pass by," Spitzer said.

One alternative to the mercury hood and trunk light switch is a ball bearing switch that costs approximately 38 cents.

Across the nation, 41 states have issued 2,242 fish warnings, telling anglers to eliminate or limit their consumption of certain fish due to mercury contamination in the fish flesh. New York alone has mercury warnings in place for 22 water bodies including Lake Champlain, Schroon Lake, the Susquehanna River and five reservoirs supplying water to New York City.

Attorneys General from the following states and territories have called on Ford to take this action:

  • Alabama
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Virgin Islands
  • West Virginia

Within the New York Attorney General's Office, the issue is being handled by Chief Scientist Peter Skinner, Researcher Kathryn Ramsey and Assistant Attorney General Carter Strickland, under the supervision of Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Peter Lehner.