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Environmental groups urge senators to drop mercury disposal legislation

Concerned that legislation they consider too weak will pass the Senate without debate, environmental lobbyists came to the State House Monday seeking a senator to object to the mercury thermostat legislation if it comes up in an informal session.

“Massachusetts has been a real leader in mercury policy up until now,” said Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project.

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The bill was amended and passed by the House July 31 and is pending in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

If it is passed into law, it would “remove any chance of anything meaningful passing for the next 5 to 10 years,” said Alex Papali of Clean Water Action.

With the House and Senate no longer meeting this year in formal sessions, any lawmaker can object to a bill passing either branch during informal session and hold up that piece of legislation.

The manufacturing of thermostats that use mercury was abolished more than a decade ago, according to Bender, but the devices, which can last 20 or 30 years, regularly wind up in the trash, eventually making their way into the environment.

He said 700 to 1,000 pounds of mercury from thermostats are disposed of each year in the state and only 3 percent is properly collected.

The legislation pending would require thermostat wholesalers and contractors to provide collection bins for old mercury thermostats and would require demolition contractors to properly dispose of the devices.

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