Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New legislation protects workers and consumers from mercury vapor risks of unsafe fluorescent lamp packaging

When Governor Chris Gregoire signed Senate Bill 5543 on March 19, Washington became the first state to address the dangers of unsafe packaging and transportation of used fluorescent lamps and mercury containing devices. This new legislation is set to be the precursor of future state and federal legislation as awareness of mercury vapor dangers increases.

Due to deficiencies of most current packaging configurations utilized for shipping used fluorescent lamps, the new law requires that lights and other mercury-containing devices are packaged and shipped in material that will minimize the release of mercury into the environment. The law also states that packages should include mercury vapor barrier materials if lamps are transported by the United States postal service or a common carrier or collected via curbside programs and mail-back businesses.

Additionally, the State of Wisconsin recently considered legislation that would apply newer mercury-containing equipment packaging standards to used lamps from households. If adopted, the law would require those lamps to be managed in containers “designed to prevent the escape of mercury into the environment by volatilization or other means.”

Environmental practitioners know that most federal environmental laws followed the lead of state laws and regulations. Mercury waste regulation is no exception. Today most mercury lamps are not recycled and states are increasingly indicating that they will take action to fix that problem. As those state laws evolve, states will also consider imposing more specific packaging requirements to supplement the minimal requirements imposed by federal regulations. USEPA’s container requirements for mercury containing equipment provide a simple and effective standard for states to extend to mercury containing lamps. Now that one state has taken that step and another is considering it, watch for similar activity in other states.

Peder Larson
Larkin Hoffman

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