ANNAPOLIS – Environmentalists hailed a proposal to require labels on mercury products, saying it would warn the public about mercury-related health risks and cut pollution from discarded products.
But electrical industry representatives told the House Environmental Matters Committee on Wednesday that the labeling plan could backfire, cutting into their efforts to reduce the use of mercury in products and educate the public about the chemical.
“The bill focuses on the wrong issue, harming mercury reduction efforts,” said Ric Erdheim of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.
Erdheim noted that the industry has already collected 123,000 thermostats under a recycling program it started.
The bill would require that mercury products — dyes, electric switches, fluorescent lamps and thermostats — have a label informing consumers that the substance has been added and that it must be recycled.
The Maryland Department of the Environment would establish labeling standards, but the label would include instructions for recycling the product, said Delegate James Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, a lead sponsor of the bill.
Hubbard said similar proposals were dropped last year because the National Electrical Manufacturers Association challenged Vermont’s plans to require labeling on mercury products.
But a federal district court late last year ruled that the association’s claims of undue financial burden and violations of interstate commerce were unfounded, Hubbard said.
Environmentalists argued that mercury has contaminated Maryland’s air and water, and the bill would help solve the problem.
Maryland has one of the highest levels of airborne mercury because of power plants in the Ohio Valley, and the state recently issued an advisory for public lakes and reservoirs due to high mercury levels in fish, said Theresa Pierno of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Not only would the bill benefit the environment by banning the disposal of mercury in Maryland, it would also protect the children, particularly fetuses, said Dr. Lorne Garrettson of the Children’s Environmental Health Advisory Committee.
“We are now telling pregnant mothers not to eat fish from certain parts of Maryland,” Dr. Garrettson said.
But Erdheim said the bill does not address cost-effective methods to reduce mercury use in products, or guarantee that people will pay attention to the labels.
Labels also are not the most efficient way to inform the public, said Heather Bowman, a lobbyist for the Electronic Industries Alliance.
Companies, such as Kodak, include mercury disposal information on their owner’s manuals, while others include similar information on their Web sites, she said.