Mercury thermostats have been banned for almost five years in Massachusetts. But a push is on to ensure old ones are recycled, so they don’t wind up in landfills where the toxic metal can seep into the ground.
Now, a fight is brewing in the waning days of the Legislative session over a bill that would require thermostat makers to recycle old thermostats. Supported by Sen. Marc Pacheco, chair of Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, the proposal would take a voluntary program and make it a mandatory one.
There is broad agreement that recycling is a good idea – but environmentalists say the bill has no teeth. They want manufacturers to offer the public incentives to recycle thermostats, and point to successful programs in Maine and Vermont that pay consumers $5 per thermostat to do so. Even if the “bounty” on mercury is not included in the bill, environmentalists want a provision to allow the state Department of Environmental Protection to require improvements if state recycling goals aren’t met.
“It looks like they are doing something, but there is no incentive and no concrete goals on how many (thermostats) need to be collected,’’ said Elizabeth Saunders, Massachusetts state director of Clean Water Action. A coalition of environmental groups is opposed to the bill, including MASSPIRG, Massachusetts Sierra Club, Environment Massachusetts and Environmental League and Mass Aubudon.
Mercury is a naturally occurring metal that accumulates in the body and can harm the nervous system of a fetus or young child if ingested in enough quantities. Most people are exposed to the metal by eating fish.
“This is a case of a perfect bill being the enemy of the good,’’ said Pacheco. He said data is need to understand what the recycling goals should be. “This is a good bill.”
But Saunders said data isn't necessary to start with basic goals.
"It's a medicore bill."
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