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Mercury Thermostats in Rhode Island

David Lennett

Posted February 19, 2014

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Last month, I wrote about a report estimating the number of mercury thermostats still in use in Illinois, and the number becoming waste annually, emphasizing the need to safely collect and recycle these mercury thermostats so the mercury is not released.  Today, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Clean Water Fund released a similar report for Rhode Island.

The report indicates almost 260,000 mercury thermostats are still in use in Rhode Island, and that an average of 8,900-11,400 mercury thermostats will become waste annually in each of the 2014-2019 calendar years.  In 2012, the last year for which data are currently available, the manufacturer take back program in Rhode Island administered by the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC) collected only 1,543 mercury thermostats.  TRC is not collecting the vast majority of mercury thermostats available for collection in Rhode Island, or anywhere else as recently documented by the U.S. Geologic Survey.

Fortunately, under legislation enacted in 2010, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) is required to set 2015-2020 calendar year performance standards for the TRC program in a rulemaking to be conducted this year.  Once those performance standards are established, RIDEM can mandate the TRC program changes need to meet the performance standards.  The State of California completed a similar rulemaking last year, and now requires TRC to collect hundreds of thousands more thermostats than TRC historically collected in that state.

In this year’s rulemaking setting the future Rhode Island collection goals, RIDEM has an opportunity to finally establish a successful program.  The law requires RIDEM to consider studies which estimate the number of number of mercury thermostats available for collection in Rhode Island and elsewhere.  NRDC’s Rhode Island study was performed by the same consultant NRDC hired to perform the Illinois study, who is the same consultant TRC hired to perform analogous estimates for California, using similar methodologies.  The consultant relied on surveys of Rhode Island residences and businesses, and then performed statistical analyses, to derive valid estimates as the basis for setting the Rhode Island 2015-2020 collection goals.  Therefore, RIDEM should apply the NRDC-commissioned study and seize the opportunity to set aggressive mercury thermostat collection goals when it writes new rules this year.

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EdisonFeb 25 2014 12:55 PM

Ok I agree with you on "Mercury Thermostats" being hazardous , however, when they changed the light bulbs did they add "Mercury" to them?
One would have to wonder how thermostats with mercury in them are hazardous and the new light bulbs with mercury are not.
Could you please explain this one to me.

David LennettFeb 25 2014 01:56 PM

An average mercury thermostat contains 4 grams of mercury, while an average CFL these days contains 4 mg of mercury or less. Therefore, the mercury thermostat contains 1,000 times more mercury, but the bottom line is both should be safely managed at the end of their useful lives.

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