GM Says Mercury Pollution From Old Cars Is Not Its Problem, Potentially
Sabotages Program For Safe Disposal
WASHINGTON ? As hundreds of thousands of clunkers head to the scrap
yard, General Motors has dropped out of a partnership that collects
toxic parts from recycled automobiles to prevent mercury pollution.
Participants in the environmental program told The Associated Press the
timing of GM's departure could undermine their work. The government's
"cash-for-clunkers" program will lead to trade-in and recycling of an
estimated 750,000 vehicles, some of which contain mercury switches.
GM said its new company is not a member of the partnership because it no
longer makes vehicles with mercury switches and is not responsible for
the older vehicles. The old company, which is still under bankruptcy
court supervision, said it is reviewing agreements involving the former
company and declined to comment.
Roughly 36 million mercury switches were used in trunk convenience
lights and antilock brakes in vehicles built in the 1980s and 1990s.
More than half of them are in GM vehicles built before 2000.
Mercury released into the air can accumulate in plants, fish and humans.
Children and fetuses are vulnerable to the effects of the toxic metal,
which can damage the development of the nervous system.
The auto industry partnership, called the End of Life Vehicle Solutions
Corp., or ELVS, was created in 2005 to prevent mercury emissions from
being released into the environment when vehicles are crushed and
shredded. It works closely with the National Vehicle Mercury Switch
Recovery Program, which the Environmental Protection Agency helped form
with automakers, the steel industry and environmentalists in 2006.
The program, which is scheduled to run until 2017, has recovered 2.5
million switches and disposed of nearly 5,600 pounds of mercury. General
Motors, prior to its bankruptcy, was the group's largest participant and
informed the partnership of the change last week.
Mary Bills, the partnership's executive director, said GM has not paid
its dues since filing for bankruptcy. Its annual bill is $700,000 to $1
million, a substantial portion of the program's funding. Without GM's
payments, the organization may be forced to scale back or cease
operations, making it more difficult for recyclers to dispose of mercury
recovered under the $3 billion "cash-for-clunkers" program and other
recycled vehicles in the future, she said.
"We're surprised that GM, who wants to have this great, green image,
would do this," Bills said.
General Motors Co., 60.8 percent owned by the U.S. government, emerged
from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month under a plan in which
its best-performing assets were sold to form a new company. The former
company, now called Motors Liquidation Co., is a conglomeration of GM's
liabilities and underperforming assets that remains under court supervision.
GM spokeswoman Sharon Basel said GM's former entity remains a member of
the partnership. The new automaker, however, "has never produced
vehicles with mercury switches and has no mercury switch responsibility
under the terms of the bankruptcy court order," Basel said.
Tim Yost, a Motors Liquidation spokesman, declined to comment about the
partnership, saying the old company has been analyzing its nearly
500,000 contracts and agreements, "including this one."
ELVS manages programs to collect and dispose of the mercury switches,
providing white storage buckets to recyclers to collect them. Thirteen
automakers participate, including Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Co. and
Daimler AG, and the companies' fees are based on market share and their
portions of the switch population.
Fifteen states require automakers to set up a collection system to
recycle the switches. Most of them also require recyclers to remove the
switches before a vehicle is shredded. Thirty-four states conduct
voluntary programs. Maine has its own program.
Bills said it was unclear how they would continue service in the 34
states without more funding.
In a letter Friday, Bills told the 15 states with auto industry
requirements that the ELVS board would "continue to recycle any GM
switches that arrive at our waste contractor in our collection buckets
as long as funds permit." If the organization remains unfunded for the
GM costs, "we will no longer be able to accept GM switches for
recycling," she wrote.
The 15 states with the requirements for automakers are Arkansas,
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey,
North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont and