Attorney General Peter Kilmartin today announced that Rhode Island and 11 other states entered into a settlement agreement resolving claims against the company formerly known as General Motors Corporation (“Old GM”) to fund its share of the costs to run the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program (“NVMSRP”). The Environmental Protection Agency created the NVMSRP to reduce mercury released into the environment in the scrap vehicle recycling process.
In November 2009, the Office of the Attorney General, on behalf of the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), filed a claim in Old GM’s bankruptcy case. The claim asserted that Old GM sold thousands of motor vehicles in RI with switches that contained mercury, a neurotoxin. Manufacturers of such vehicles are required by R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-24.9-1 et seq to undertake a collection program in which the mercury switches are recovered from the vehicles, and they must pay the vehicle recycler or scrap recycling facility that removes the switch the total cost of the removal, replacement and recovery system for mercury switches.
As a manufacturer of automobiles sold in Rhode Island that contain mercury switches, the Old GM was liable for the cost of the mercury switch recovery program with regard to switches removed from General Motors-manufactured vehicles that are dismantled or recycled in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island auto dealers and auto recyclers will be reimbursed five dollars per switch by safely removing the switches (convenience lighting switches) and mailing in the removed switches in a pre-paid mailing bucket to the clearinghouse known as ELVS located in Farmington Hills Michigan.
“Removing these switches from vehicles before they are crushed and recycled prevents dangerous mercury from escaping into the environment, where it can accumulate in our food system and find its way into humans. This settlement ensures that Rhode Island continues to make progress in properly and safely removing mercury from outdated vehicles and helps better protect our environment and citizens,” said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.
“We are proud that our state has been a leader in reducing mercury pollution and making important gains towards a healthier environment,” noted Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit. “Now, with the great work of the Attorney General, we will continue an important aspect of this program. These settlement funds will ensure the ongoing operation of the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program well into the future.” Exposure to mercury can cause serious health effects to children and others by damaging the nervous system, kidneys, liver and immune system.
As a result of the settlement, the mercury switch claims in Rhode Island and 11 other states will be resolved by way of a total allowed claim of $2,845,000. Under the settlement, payment will be made to End-of-Life-Vehicle Solutions, Inc. (ELVS) in accordance with the terms of Old GM’s Plan of Liquidation. ELVS implements the NVMSRP and will use the proceeds of this settlement to cover costs of operating the program nationwide.
Under the terms of the Plan of Liquidation, the actual amount to be paid to ELVS as a result of this settlement is yet to be determined. It will be related to the stock price of the currently existing company now known as General Motors Company (“New GM”).
Under the NVMSRP, more than 3.48 million switches have been collected and recycled, diverting about 7,650 pounds of mercury from the waste stream, much of which would have otherwise been emitted into the environment. Roughly 54% of mercury-containing switches recovered from “end-of-life” vehicles to date were manufactured by Old GM.
In 2006, automobile manufacturers, related industries and the United States EPA jointly created a voluntary, nationally-coordinated program known as the NVMSRP. Due to the number of cars with mercury-containing switches currently in use this program will likely be needed through 2022.