Government Fleet Top News

King County Reduces Mercury Pollution by Working with Region´s Vehicle Fleets

December 15, 2004

SEATTLE, WA — A pilot program managed by King County Solid Waste Division and the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program is helping public and private vehicle fleet managers and technicians safely remove and recover mercury-containing “tilt switches” in many vehicles, the county announced on December 6.Twelve fleets are participating in the pilot project:
  • AAA of Washington
  • City of Auburn
  • City of Bellevue
  • King County Fleet Division
  • City of Seattle - Charles St. Garage
  • City of Renton
  • U.S. General Services Administration, EPA Region 10
  • King County Metro Transit
  • King County Solid Waste Division
  • Port of Seattle
  • City of Tukwila
  • University of WashingtonA little-known but significant source of mercury pollution, tilt switches turn on trunk and under-hood convenience lights when the trunk lid or hood is raised. Each switch contains more than a gram of mercury. The Local Hazardous Waste Management Program estimates that between 35 to 108 pounds of mercury from switches are released from end-of-life vehicles each year in King County.“We´ve had terrific cooperation from fleet managers and technicians; they are doing a great job of voluntarily reducing mercury pollution,” said King County Executive Ron Sims. Mercury from tilt switches is released into the environment when vehicles are shredded and smelted for recycling. Mercury is highly toxic, and human exposure to mercury can occur from eating mercury-contaminated fish. Removing or replacing the switches with ball-bearing switches is a key step in reducing the amount of mercury released into the environment.Solid Waste Division program manager Alexandra Thompson would like to see other counties introduce similar programs. “This program is a significant part of the effort to reduce mercury pollution from vehicles in King County. This is a source of pollution that very few people even know about, so it shows once again how public agencies do a great job of educating and protecting the public,” she said.Thompson said the program will collect more than 500 switches by the end of the year. The program provides collection buckets, replacement switches, how-to documents on proper removal and replacement of mercury switches, and lists of vehicles likely to have the mercury switches to fleet maintenance supervisors. Solid Waste Division staff collect the switches from participating shops and take them to a hazardous waste collection facility so the mercury can be safely managed.For more information, visit the Solid Waste Division Web site at: www.metrokc.gov/dnrp/swd/facilities/hazwaste.asp/.
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