Siting a recently released GAO report crtical of US EPA's rules for the management of mercury containing wastes, the Association of Lamp and Mercury Recyclers today blasted the EPA rules, claiming that in 2003 alone more than 25 million pounds of toxic mercury-containing wastes were disposed in the nation's solid waste landfills:
The loophole in EPA rules allows hazardous waste generators to landfill mercury wastes without determining the mercury content of the wastes or assuring that the wastes were safely treated prior to land disposal. Most critically, the loophole allowed waste generators to avoid the requirement that mercury be removed from the most highly contaminated mercury hazardous wastes prior to landfilling.
The GAO determined the EPA cannot effectively confirm that businesses are properly managing their mercury-containing waste. They found that EPA data does not describe the treatment standard used for most mercury contaminated debris. Additionally, GAO surveys of state regulators and hazardous waste landfill owners revealed confusion about mercury waste disposal rules. This is particularly problematic, the GAO found, if highly contaminated mercury wastes are not treated and disposed of properly.
“If the goal is to keep mercury out of the environment the regulations clearly do not do that- there are too many exemptions” said Paul Abernathy, Executive Director, Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers. “It is extremely important to have precise regulations outlining the proper management and disposal of this toxic material as a proactive approach to maintaining a clean environment and protecting public health.”
Fluorescent lamps contain the toxic heavy metal mercury. While offering tremendous environmental advantages through energy savings, the disposal of used fluorescent lighting equipment raises serious environmental concerns. Less than 25 percent of fluorescent lamps are currently recycled.
The ALMR represents fluorescent lamp recyclers and has been working to increase the recycling of the mercury containing lamps. While large businesses have long been prohibited from disposing of fluorescent lamps, new California Department of Toxic Substances Control rules that went into effect in February prohibit all generators--including households--from disposing of lamps in the trash.
Californians Against waste has been working with recyclers, local governments, DTSC and lamp manufacturers for three years on a proposal to both reduce the amount of mercury used in fluorescent lamps, while expanding incentives and opportunities for recycling.