Here's the problem: General Motors went through the bankruptcy earlier this year and was able to pawn off a lot of unwanted things onto a new company called, originally, General Motors Company (since renamed Motors Liquidation Company). Some of the unwanted crap includes polluted old factories (which we knew about) and the responsibility to safely discard mercury switches in vehicles that were scrapped in the recently-concluded Cash For Clunkers program.
Millions of mercury switches were used in anti-lock brakes sensors and hood and trunk light switches until automakers phased them out in 2004. Since 2005, the group End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corporation (ELVS) "manages, on a nationwide basis, programs to collect, transport, retort, recycle, or dispose of elemental mercury from automotive switches." GM is not listed as a member of ELVS, but GM told us that Motors Liquidation Company is a part of ELVS.
So, who's responsible for the mercury in the clunked GM vehicles? The Mercury Policy Project issued a press release earlier this week saying that GM "has reneged on a commitment to safely discard those switches so they don't pollute our air and water" by not funding ELVS since bankruptcy. This means that ELVS doesn't have enough money to dismantle and dispose of the hundreds of pounds of mercury in the clunkers, 54 percent of which are GM vehicles.
GM sent us a convoluted statement regarding the issue. You can read it in full after the jump, but this is the important part:
[Source: Mercury Policy Project, GM]Motors Liquidation Company and General Motors Company are separate companies. Responsibility for mercury switches in vehicles manufactured by General Motors Corporation remains the obligation of Motors Liquidation Company. General Motors Company has not produced any vehicles with mercury switches, and has no mercury switch responsibility under state law or the terms of the Bankruptcy Court 363 Transaction Order.
Photo by kodiax2. Licensed under Creative Commons license 2.0.
GM Called on to Cover Mercury Recycling Costs in Cash for Clunkers Program; Recovery of Thousands of Pounds Mercury at Risk
Today, the $3 billion "Cash for Clunkers" program is expiring. The program provided $3500-4500 incentives for turning in less fuel-efficient vehicles to purchase new, more efficient ones. As of early Friday, the program had been a smash success, accounting for sales of 489,000 vehicles. On Thursday, in a radio interview, President Obama called the program "successful beyond anybody's imagination." At the same time old clunkers have poured in to be scrapped, "new" General Motors (GM) has apparently decided it's not responsible for recycling of mercury switches from its vehicles.
According to industry estimates, 54% of all vehicles containing mercury are GM models. Environmentalists estimates that turned-in "clunker" vehicles alone contain over 1,000 pounds of mercury. GM's failure to pay for switch recovery efforts means that over 50% of this mercury could potentially be released into the environment.
"With vehicles pouring into scrap yards under the Cash for Clunkers program, GM should pay its fair share," said Michael Bender, director of the Vermont-based Mercury Policy Project. "GM's lack of support leaves others in the lurch. It also detracts further from the financing necessary for the national program to operate effectively."
Nationally, according to industry estimates, GM models now on the road contain more than 18 million mercury switches (39,000 pounds). With Cash for Clunkers adding many more mercury-containing vehicles to the end-of-life pool, it's extremely unfortunate timing for a major supporter to be walking away from the table, say environmentalists.
Last month, a separate fund that helped pay financial incentives to auto dismantlers for turning in switches ran out of cash, so the program was already strapped for cash.
"GM should not hide behind a bankruptcy proceeding as an excuse for not meeting its on-going obligation to fund a vital program for keeping mercury out of the environment," said Charles Griffith, with the Michigan-based Ecology Center. "Americans should demand that in return for the benefits it received under Cash for Clunkers, the company continue meeting its obligations to fund legacy mercury recovery costs from GM end-of-life vehicles."
Mercury switches were used to operate hood and trunk convenience lights in vehicles made before 2004, when automakers stopped their use. Upwards of 100 million of these devices were used in vehicles. Unless they are removed first, the mercury from auto switches is released to the air when vehicles are recycled at steel mills. This source contributes to both local and global mercury pollution and contamination of fish.
Mercury, particularly in the methylmercury form, is a potent neurotoxin that can impair neurological development in fetuses and young children and damage the nervous system of adults. It is toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative. Mercury can be deposited in water, soils, and air where microorganisms can convert it into the highly toxic methlymercury. Methlymercury is also created by combustion of mercury-containing materials like auto switches.
General Motors Corporation filed for bankruptcy on June 1, 2009, and on July 10, 2009 certain facilities were sold to a new company called General Motors Company, under section 363 of the Bankruptcy Code. General Motors Corporation has been renamed Motors Liquidation Company. Motors Liquidation Company and General Motors Company are separate companies.
Responsibility for mercury switches in vehicles manufactured by General Motors Corporation remains the obligation of Motors Liquidation Company. General Motors Company has not produced any vehicles with mercury switches, and has no mercury switch responsibility under state law or the terms of the Bankruptcy Court 363 Transaction Order.
It is our understanding that Motors Liquidation Company remains a member of ELVS.