CHICAGO – July 26, 2010. Governor Pat Quinn today signed into law three bills that will further reduce the amounts of mercury in the environment that can be harmful to residents, especially young children. Illinois already leads the nation in reducing the public’s exposure to mercury.
“Mercury exposure poses a threat to our waterways and environment, and to the public’s health,” said Governor Quinn. “These bills expand our efforts to significantly reduce the amounts of mercury in our environment by eliminating non-essential uses.”
Senate Bill 3346, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Rep. Karen May (D-Highwood), requires thermostat manufacturers to maintain a statewide program to collect, transport and manage mercury-switch thermostats for recycling when they are taken out of service. Senate Bill 3347, also sponsored by Sen. Steans and Rep. May, phases out the sale and use of lead and mercury wheel balancing weights in Illinois on Jan. 1, 2012.
House Bill 6201, sponsored by Rep. May and Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), extends the sunset date to for the automakers’ current state program that collects and recycles mercury light switches from end-of-life vehicles before they are processed as scrap metal to Jan. 1, 2017.
Mercury can escape into the environment when improperly disposed or burned. If a mercury-containing device breaks and the spill is not cleaned up properly, the mercury forms into an odorless vapor, potentially reaching dangerous levels in indoor air. Methylmercury, an organic form of mercury, can accumulate up the food chain in lakes, streams and rivers, which results in high concentrations in the tissues of older and larger fish.
People are most frequently exposed to mercury through the consumption of contaminated fish or by inhaling vapors from spilled mercury or leaking equipment. Mercury poses a significant health risk, especially to young children and fetuses. Prolonged, low-level exposure may cause learning disabilities by impairing children’s ability to think and read. Adults who have been exposed to high levels of mercury may experience trembling hands and numbness or tingling in their lips, tongues, fingers and toes.
Acute mercury poisoning, especially through ingestion, can damage the brain, liver, kidneys and even cause death. Mercury can harm wildlife that eats contaminated fish, particularly bald eagles, loons and other fish-eating birds and mammals.
All three laws go into effect immediately.