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In Wake of Obama Visit to GM Plant, Administration Told GM Could Cause Soaring Mercury

In Wake of Obama Visit to GM Plant, Administration Told GM Could Cause Soaring Mercury…

Thu Sep 17, 2009 8:00am EDT
In Wake of Obama Visit to GM Plant, Administration Told GM Could Cause Soaring
Mercury Emissions Starting Jan. 1, 2010

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In the wake of President
Obama's visit to a General Motors (GM) plant earlier in the week, his
Administration and key states were warned today that GM would be excluded from
the country's automotive mercury recycling program at the end of this year.

The national administrator overseeing mercury recycling in automobiles made
the announcement in an update to program participants this morning. In
response, two allied environmental groups called on the Obama Administration
or Congress to direct GM to change course, or risk the collapse of the program
and a spike in toxic mercury emissions in U.S. communities nationwide.  

"When GM testified before Congress last year, they said their bailout
resources would be used to make the company greener, and they continue to
insist that is what they are doing.   Instead, today we find out that after
December 31st, the company is actually going to be responsible for spewing
more mercury into the air," said Michael Bender, director of the Vermont-based
Mercury Policy Project. "GM is not lean and green if it sheds all of its
environmental obligations onto the taxpayer and its competitors."

The national administrator, known as End of Live Vehicle Solutions (ELVS),
issued a letter to states and the U.S. EPA today saying that unless General
Motors (GM) acts now, ELVS will have to stop accepting mercury switches from
scrap-yard bound GM vehicles starting January 1, 2010.  This could result in
tons of unnecessary mercury emissions from smoke stacks across the country,
especially given that more than 700,000 vehicles poured into the system during
the recently concluded Cash for Clunkers program. 

ELVS is being forced to take this drastic step because GM is hiding behind its
bankruptcy and reneging on its commitment to help fund the auto industry
partnership that is crucial for keeping mercury out of the environment, the
environmental groups agreed.  

Over the past month, a number of environmental and industry groups have called
on GM to meet its obligation to fund legacy mercury recovery costs from
scrapped vehicles. On August 26, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources sent
a letter to President Barack Obama asking for him to support efforts to get GM
to restart its mercury efforts.

"When Obama spoke to the GM employees this week, he committed to 'fighting for
an America where clean energy generates green jobs,' said Charles Griffith,
head of the Ecology Center's Clean Car Campaign. "We take him at his word, and
fully support him in that effort.  

"But GM, the company that his Administration owns, is pulling out of all its
legacy environmental commitments. The Administration should step up and simply
direct GM to rejoin this mercury recycling program - and live up to its
responsibility to the environment more broadly."  

ELVS was created to coordinate the efforts of auto manufacturers for the
collection, transportation and proper recycling of mercury switches from
end-of-life vehicles under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's
facilitated National Vehicle Mercury Switch Removal Program.  ELVS is reliant
on funding from car manufacturers who produced these mercury switches on a
proportional basis (i.e. the fees they pay are based on the number of mercury
switches they produced).  

Because it is estimated that around 54 percent of the vehicles containing
mercury switches are GM models, GM has been the program's largest funder.
According to industry estimates, nationally GM models now on the road contain
more than 18 million mercury switches, or 39,000 pounds of the highly toxic

Following their federally structured bankruptcy, General Motors Company or
"new GM" last month informed ELVS that it was not a member of ELVS and is not
responsible for mercury switches from older vehicles produced by "old GM", now
known as Motors Liquidation Corporation. Since then Motor Liquidation has not
communicated with ELVS, and has stopped funding the program.  

Mercury switches were used to operate hood and truck convenience lights in
vehicles made before 2004, when automakers stopped their use. Unless they are
removed first, the mercury from auto switches is released to the air when
vehicles are recycled at steel mills. This source contributes to both local
and global mercury pollution and contamination of fish, and ultimately can
cause devastating effects in human beings. 

Mercury, particularly in the methylmercury form, is a potent neurotoxin that
can impair neurological development in fetuses and young children and damage
the nervous system of adults. It is toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative.
Mercury can be deposited in water, soils, and air where microorganisms can
convert it into the highly toxic methylmercury. Methylmercury is also created
by combustion of mercury-containing materials like auto switches.

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