Congressional Hearing on Dental Mercury

The U.S. House Government Oversight Subcommittee on Domestic Policy held a hearing on Wednesday, May 26 on “Assessing EPA’s Efforts To Measure And Reduce Mercury Pollution From Dentist Offices.”  At the hearing, MPP presented its testimony and a new report, “Midnight Deal on Dental Mercury.”    Several online services reported on the meeting and/or MPP’s report.  Testifying at the hearing were EPA, the American Dental Association, an amalgam separator manufacturer, a scientist and MPP’.   Earlier, EPA had responded to an letter from Domestic Policy Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Kucinich regarding air releases and the Agency’s MOU with the ADA on dental mercury releases.  In response, MPP wrote a letter to Chairman Kucinich, to clarify the record regarding our “stakeholder” role.

Congressional Subcommittee Urges EPA to Study Dental Mercury Emissions Data

Chairman of the Congressional Domestic Policy Subcommittee, Dennis Kucinich, and Congresswoman Diane Watson sent a written request to EPA to reduce mercury pollution by tightening dental mercury regulations with Best Management Practices and amalgam separators.  They point out that dental mercury is a serious source of mercury pollution and comprises over half of all mercury in use today, amounting to over 1000 tons.  They call upon the EPA to reevaluate and update its mercury emission factors based upon more complete data and provide a plan to Congress by February 16th.

Turning Up the Heat

Mercury Products Campaign’s report Turning Up the Heat exposes the dismal results of the manufacturers’ voluntary mercury thermostat collection program (TRC).  TRC has collected less than 5% of the approximately 100 tons of mercury from mercury thermostats removed from service.  The report recommends that states step in and adopt strong laws, with financial incentives and performance standards for recycling mercury thermostats, to drastically improve the TRC program and prevent mercury pollution.

GM Caves to Pressure on Mercury Pollution

General Motors finally caved in to pressure from public-interest groups, government officials and state agencies and has agreed to cover the costs of keeping mercury from its cars out of the atmosphere.  That’s the good news: the environmental community and our recycling industry and policymaker allies have managed to back GM down on an issue that is crucial to public health.

But here’s the bad news: GM has yet to make this decision permanent – and step back from the entire idea that it can declare “environmental bankruptcy.”  Without GM’s support, the ELVS mercury switch recycling program will collapse, potentially sending tons of mercury into the environment, particularly now that the nation’s junk yards are stretched to capacity dealing with the influx of end-of-life vehicles from the cash-for-clunkers program. MPP fully intends to keep the pressure on the new GM to take long-term responsibility for its environmental legacy.  See the New York Times  for additional details.

Mercury Policy Project Testifies at NY Hearing on Mercury

At the request of New York State’s Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, MPP provides expert testimony regarding methods to reduce mercury exposure. MPP stressed the state government’s responsibility to reduce and eliminate mercury uses and releases, and also to take steps to protect its population from mercury exposure risks.  Recommendations included to (1) expand risk communication for consumption of high-mercury fish, (2) strengthen mercury phase-out legislation, (3) pass new legislation requiring incentivized collections for mercury thermostats, and (4) establish maximum mercury-content standards for light bulbs.

GM Backs Away from Responsibility to Recover Mercury from Scrapped Vehicles

Just as the Cash for Clunkers program is dumping hundreds of thousands of vehicles on auto recyclers, the “new” GM announced they are not obligated to honor industry-wide recycling measures to capture mercury from old auto switches. Environmental groups demand that GM fulfill its responsibility. “GM should not be hiding 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, Director of the Ecology Center’s Clean Car Campaign.

As GM was the largest user of mercury auto switches, state-mandated recycling programs are unable to absorb the cost of recycling GM parts.  Compounding the problem, automotive recyclers will no longer receive a bounty from GM to remove the mercury switches from GM cars, increasing the likelihood that the mercury will be dumped into the environment. The Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) also expressed their concern that GM is opting out of their commitment. For more information, see MPP and Ecology Center’s press release and The End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corporation (ELVS) response to GM’s announcement.

Conference Demonstrates Feasibility of Mercury-free Hospitals

Environmental and health NGOs, including EEB, ZMWG and HCWH, released a report today at their conference in Brussels clearly demonstrating that the transition to mercury-free measuring devices including sphygmomanometers in hospitals is technologically and economically feasible. The European Commission is in the process of reviewing the availability of reliable safer mercury-free alternatives and if appropriate, will present a legislative proposal to extend restrictions for relevant identified uses by October 2009.

“Switching to mercury-free sphygmos should not cause any problems in terms of clinical diagnosis and monitoring. In fact it should improve the accuracy of blood pressure measurement in clinical settings,” (see press release) said Peter Orris, MD, a Professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, a WHO Collaborating Center in Occupational and Environmental Health and speaker at today’s conference. Many hospitals in the EU have already implemented this change since suitable mercury-free alternatives are currently available on the market.

MPP and Green Lighting Campaign Submit Comments to DOE

Today, the Green Lighting Campaign along with others submitted comments in response to the DOE’s proposed Energy Conservation Standards for General Service Fluorescent Lamps and Incandescent Reflector Lamps.

We are concerned that this proposed rule will allow a significant amount of outdated lighting equipment to continue to be sold in the US marketplace even though more energy-efficient, cost-effective replacements are readily available.  At a minimum, according to our comments, the DOE should adopt lighting-efficiency standards at least as stringent and broad in scope as those adopted under the European Union’s Eco-Design Standards for Energy Using Products (EuP) Directive.

Failure to do so will place the US further behind on demonstrated leadership regarding climate change and other related environmental policy issues,” said  Alicia Culver of the Green Purchasing Institute and Co-Coordinatorof the Green Lighting Campaign.  “Moreover, adoption of the current proposal will run the risk of turning the US into a dumping ground for inferior lighting products that do not meet the EU’s stronger energy-efficiency requirements.”

Facing Up to the Hazards of Mercury Tooth Fillings

MPP director Michael Bender testifies today before a US Congressional Government Oversight Subcommittee on Domestic Policy hearing, entitled “Assessing State and Local Regulations to Reduce Mercury Emissions.” During his testimony, Bender presents MPP’s new report, “Facing Up to the Hazards of Mercury Tooth Fillings,” which lays out the rationale for placing a user fee on the continued use of dental mercury as a means to cover the costs of preventing dental mercury pollution from environmental release. Specifically, the report recommends that a user fee of $30.00 be assessed on amalgam manufacturers for the production of each mercury tooth filling, payable at time of sale. Funds collected should be placed into a designated account to cover the costs of controlling mercury pollution. The report also shows the cost-effectiveness of amalgam separators at preventing mercury from getting into the environment and clearly demonstrates that voluntary programs are not effective in convincing dentists to install and properly maintain separators.

Groups Launch Green Lighting Campaign

Environmental groups from New York to California are taking a pledge to consider only the “greenest” CFLs when making purchases for office use and during compact fluorescent lamp giveaways. The new “Green Lighting Campaign” intends to promote more sustainable lighting practices such as recycling, rather than throwing lamps containing mercury in the trash. Toxic levels in lamps have created concerns when the lamps are produced, transported, installed, broken or disposed of, say advocates. Absent mercury content reductions and manufacturing dosing improvements, global mercury use will increase with expanding fluorescent lighting use, and negate dramatic mercury reductions anticipated in most other sectors. Offered by a coalition of groups (see press release), the guidance and pledge have other organizations considering steps to include more than energy efficiency when determining their lighting purchases.

Millions of lamps are purchased every year, a decision typically made by a handful of people. Many work with or in non-profit groups, who then distribute them to the public. Lamp giveaways are held to help educate and motivate the public around issues of energy efficiency and climate change. By making these purchases influence more than the climate change issue, the Green Lighting Campaign seeks to influence the overall market for lighting products. “As we choose compact fluorescent lamps to combat global warming, we can and should reduce toxic pollution at the same time,” said Bill Magavern, Director of Sierra Club California. “The Green Lighting Campaign seeks to protect households and workers from both mercury pollution and climate change.”