Mercury Reduction Outreach: Auto & Appliance Repair
Mercury switches are found in a variety of items ranging from automobiles to household appliances. Though strides have been made by auto and appliance manufacturers to minimize and eliminate the use of mercury, look for tags or labels that identify the components as containing mercury when repairing these items. It is important to keep the mercury ampules intact when repairing equipment and never rinse mercury from a broken ampule down the drain.
When mercury is allowed to escape down a drain, it comes in contact with water and becomes a contaminant that must be removed by your local wastewater treatment plant. Once in the water, it can be difficult and costly to remove or reduce mercury to safe limits.
Mercury may be found in many automotive applications including hood and trunk light switches, ABS braking systems switches, ride control systems, navigation displays, air bag sensors, and high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps.
Mercury may also be found in a wide variety of appliances including chest freezers, refrigerators, gas and electric stoves, washing machines, space heaters, pool heaters, commercial water heaters, and camper appliances. Mercury-containing tilt switches have been used for applications such as turning on lights in various appliances, stopping the spin cycle on a washing machine when the lid is lifted, and position-sensitive safety switches in clothes irons and space heaters.
Why the concern?
Mercury is Toxic:
Although mercury performs many useful functions, it is toxic and can impair the way we see, hear and function.
In the environment, a percentage of mercury undergoes a biological/chemical process and is converted to methylmercury, which is a more toxic form of mercury.
Mercury poisoning can attack the central nervous system in humans. Women of child-bearing age and children, especially those under the age of six, are most susceptible to mercury poisoning.
Wastewater treatment plants are facing increased regulatory attention for levels of mercury in the wastewater they treat and ultimately discharge into Indiana waters. As a result, treatment plants throughout the state need the cooperation of business, industry and citizens to minimize the amount of mercury escaping down the drain.
What can the automobile & appliance repair industries do to help?
- Complete a mercury assessment of your facility by using the checklist [DOC];
- Replace mercury switches with mechanical switches when repairing automobiles and appliances, when possible;
- Allow only those people who are properly trained and equipped to remove, handle, and manage mercury-containing devices from appliances or automobiles;
- Have a mercury clean-up system in place;
- Phase out mercury-containing products and equipment, when possible;
- Purchase septic tank and sump pumps that contain magnetic dry reed switches, optic sensors or mechanical switches instead of mercury tilt switches;
- Clearly label items containing mercury and ensure these items are not sent down the drain;
- Implement proper disposal for all mercury-containing equipment and chemicals that have reached the end of their useful life; and
- Use safe, non-mercury cleaners and degreasers in labs and maintenance areas.
- Auto Salvage
- Michigan Mercury Switch Study [PDF]
- U.S. National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program (U.S. EPA Archive)
- Household Appliance Mercury Switch Removal Manual [PDF]
For additional information call (800) 988-7901 or (317) 232-8172