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Nationwide “Switch-the-Switch” Program Calls On Automakers To Take Responsibility For Toxic Mercury In Vehicles

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November 13, 2001

November 13, 2001

New York — The Clean Car Campaign has joined forces with automotive dealerships, state and city officials, and environmental organizations across the nation today to kick off a “Switch-the-Switch” event to help protect the public and the environment from toxic mercury. Participating automotive dealerships will replace convenience lighting mercury switches with mercury-free alternatives in customer vehicles for free during the event, and state and city officials will replace mercury switches in government vehicle fleets.

The Clean Car Campaign today also called on auto manufacturers to establish a national program to recover mercury in vehicles. “It’s time for auto manufacturers to take responsibility for the tons of mercury in vehicles now on the road,” said Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project, a member of the Clean Car Campaign. “We commend the leadership of the dealers and fleet managers participating in this week’s event; we now need the industry as a whole to step up to the plate and offer this important service to help protect our environment and our health.”

Mercury is a highly toxic substance that can cause severe nervous system problems in humans and wildlife. Mercury switches used until recently in hood and trunk convenience lighting are the most common source of mercury in cars. These switches contribute to the estimated 200 tons of mercury in vehicles on the road today. Much of this mercury will be released to the environment when the vehicles are scrapped, unless auto manufacturers offer a safe and effective program to collect this toxic substance.

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control, over 375,000 children born in the U.S. each year are at risk for neurodevelopment problems, from mild learning disabilities to mental retardation, because of exposure to mercury in the womb. Forty states have issued advisories warning pregnant women and other vulnerable people to avoid eating fish from lakes and rivers contaminated with mercury. Despite the extreme danger, the U.S. auto industry continues to routinely use mercury in cars, even though practical alternatives are widely available.

“Switch-the-Switch” events are taking place at dealerships and government fleets in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The Clean Car Campaign is working to keep the mercury collected from the switches from being resold and placed into new products through the donated services of Comus, Int. and Bethlehem Apparatus to receive, collect and store the mercury on an interim basis of at least one year.

The Clean Car Campaign is a coalition of national and regional environmental organizations. It continues to challenge automakers to meet the Clean Car Standard and hold them accountable for their vehicle design and manufacturing decisions. For more information on the Campaign, the “Switch-the-Switch” events and the issue of automotive mercury, visit their website at www.cleancarcampaign.org.

For questions regarding this statement, please contact:
Michael Bender, Mercury Policy Project, 802 223-9000
Dean Menke, Environmental Defense, 202 387-3500
Jeff Gearhart, Ecology Center, 734 663-2400 ext. 117