Industries pull the switch on mercury switches

The steel and auto industries have agreed to pay $2 million each to remove mercury-containing light switches from millions of scrapyard-bound vehicles. The deal will reduce U.S. annual mercury pollution by at least 5 percent over the next 15 years, according to U.S. EPA chief Stephen Johnson. Bully for the U.S., but a wash for the planet: the mercury will be recycled, refined, and likely sold to loosely regulated industries in developing countries. The toxin was phased out of foreign-vehicle lighting systems in 1993 and domestic cars in 2002, but about 67.5 million mercury-containing light switches remain in older vehicles in the U.S. Ten states already have switch-removing programs. The federal deal was negotiated over two years, as struggling U.S. automakers balked; steel companies supported the plan, hoping participation would help them avoid tougher air-pollution regulations. Mercury, as eloquently stated by one scrap-recycling trade grouper, is “pernicious to kids.”