“Honey, Please Check the Thermostat”Posted Sep 29, 2017 by Ryan Kiscaden
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Texas residents are bracing for another deluge: the sounds of reconstruction as the state begins to rebuild, on its way to a semblance of normalcy.
And within this leviathan reconstruction effort lurks a significant hazardous waste issue that both consumers and contractors must address, and one about which my organization has a particular concern: the safe removal and disposal of mercury-filled thermostats.
With the predictable haste to rebuild and the magnitude of the task, it is unsurprising if residents and construction workers overlook this environmental threat. This becomes even more problematic if news reports are accurate about the dearth of construction workers available in an industry that has already suffered shortages. To meet demand, some less experienced workers, who might be unfamiliar with how to identify and properly recycle mercury thermostats, will enter the workforce. And if a homeowner decides to become a “do-it-yourself” type during the cleanup process, understanding the safety issues becomes even more critical.
For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website does an admirable job of offering a wide range of assistance to ameliorate Harvey-induced damage, including tips and guidelines for a safer and easier cleanup. However, when last examined, it did not include any guidelines or advice regarding the safe disposal of thermostats that might contain mercury.
This is a concern for all. Mercury contained in thermostats (usually enclosed in an ampule as part of the switching system) poses a legitimate health risk. As an element, mercury doesn’t break down, and studies demonstrate conclusively that it is particularly harmful to humans and animals. U.S. manufacturers discontinued making these thermostats between 2004 and 2007, but it is a safe assumption that many remain in aging homes.
The Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC) has taken a front seat stewardship role as a nonprofit organization that promotes, facilitates, and manages the collection of mercury-containing thermostats. We do this in collaboration with heating and air conditioning (HVAC) wholesale distributors, retailers who sell thermostats, municipal household hazardous waste facilities, and HVAC contracting businesses on behalf of 31 manufacturers who support the program. TRC assumes all costs for the recycling process.
For the nearest recycling site, visit https://www.thermostat-recycle.org/ and input your ZIP code.
TRC’s ultimate goal is to put ourselves out of business after we have recycled every mercury-filled thermostat in the country. Since 2002, we have distributed 9,400 collection bins in the 48 contiguous states, and collected more than 2.1 million thermostats. Our efforts have diverted more than 10 tons of mercury from the ecosystem.
On a broader scale, the HVAC industry hasn’t ignored the need to protect consumers’ heating and cooling systems in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Many other issues arise with HVAC systems, and a useful guide created by leading industry organizations is available at http://bit.ly/2wfPyxb.
It is invariably difficult to judge how successful a recovery is after a national disaster such as Hurricane Harvey. But if picking up one piece of debris is a minuscule action in rebuilding, then taking 10 minutes to examine your thermostat — or asking your contractor to do it — is a significant step in helping to ensure a safer environment for yourself, your family, and your neighbors.
And isn’t that where the rebuilding process really begins?
Ryan Kiscaden is the Executive Director of the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC) based out of Ft. Washington, PA