Several laws have been enacted in Illinois that regulate mercury-containing products by limiting or prohibiting mercury content in certain products. The purpose of banning mercury-containing products is to eliminate non-essential uses of mercury, thereby reducing the potential for mercury being released during the production, use and disposal of products. These laws apply to the following products:
Thermometers: Beginning July 1, 2004, the sale and distribution of mercury fever thermometers is prohibited, including those provided in hospital new baby gift packs. The law exempts mercury fever thermometers sold to, or used in, a health care facility.
Novelty Products: Beginning July 1, 2004, no mercury-added novelties may be sold or distributed for promotional purposes, unless the mercury is solely within a button-cell battery or fluorescent light bulb. Novelty items include toys, figurines, adornments, games, cards, ornaments, yard statues and figurines, candles, jewelry, holiday decorations, shoes and other items of apparel.
K-12 School Purchasing: Beginning July 1, 2005, the purchase or acceptance of bulk mercury, mercury containing compounds and mercury-containing instructional equipment for use in primary or secondary classrooms is prohibited. An exemption is provided for mercury-containing measuring devices used as teaching aids, if no adequate mercury-free alternative exists.
Electrical Switches and Relays: Beginning July 1, 2007, the selling, distribution, or offer to sell or distribute mercury electrical switches and relays is prohibited (with some exemptions). The law includes mercury switches and relays sold individually or as a product component. The law excludes switches and relays used in medical diagnostic equipment regulated under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act; at electric generating facilities; in thermostats to sense and control room temperature; or required under federal law or federal contract specifications. Also excluded are replacement switches and relays for a product in use prior to July 1, 2007, if the larger product is used in manufacturing, or the switch or relay is not physically separate from other components in the larger product.
Mercury Devices: The sale and distribution of the following mercury containing devices are prohibited. The effective date is not the same for every product. The date prohibition started is noted for each device.
The law does not apply if use of the product is a federal requirement or if the only mercury-added component in the product is a button cell battery. Manufacturers of the above devices may apply for an exemption from the law with the Illinois EPA.
Manufacturers of the devices listed above, or products containing them, can petition the IL EPA for an exemption from the sales and distribution bans. The IL EPA uses applications created by the Interstate Mercury Education and Reduction Clearinghouse (IMERC). The forms are to be used when petitioning other IMERC member states for an exemption as well. The Illinois Pollution Control Board has adopted regulations for applying for an exemption.
Automobile Switches: Beginning September 1, 2008, mercury switches must be removed from vehicles prior to being crushed, flattened, or otherwise processed. The switches must be properly recycled also. The IL EPA has developed mercury auto switch removal information for vehicle crushers, vehicle recyclers, and scrap metal processors.
Cosmetics: Mercury or mercury salts may be used as an active ingredient in skin-lightening products to "lighten" the complexion or to remove "blotchy" spots. Investigations by the Chicago Tribune, as well as by public health officials in California, Virginia and New York City, have found high levels of mercury in skin-lightening creams made in China, Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, India, Lebanon, Mexico, Pakistan and Taiwan. Typically skin-lightening products commercially made in the United States do not contain mercury. Home-made skin-lightening products are more likely to contain mercury.
Beginning June 1, 2009, sale and distribution of cosmetics, toiletries, or fragrances containing mercury is prohibited. Any person who knowingly sells or distributes mercury-containing cosmetics, toiletries, or fragrances in Illinois is guilty of a petty offense. A fact sheet for retailers is available.
Mercury Thermostat Collection and Recycling: On July 1, 2008, the State of Illinois joined several other states in prohibiting the sale and distribution of new mercury-switch thermostats that are used to activate heating and cooling equipment in buildings. In 2010, the Mercury Thermostat Collection Act was passed, requiring thermostat manufacturers to establish collection programs for recycling mercury-switch thermostats when they are taken out of service.
For information on mercury product laws and regulations in Illinois, please contact Becky Jayne at 217-524-9642.
Illinois EPA submitted a report to the Illinois General Assembly that includes recommendations for creating a statewide program to reduce and recycle mercury components found in end-of-life vehicles and thermostats used to control room temperature. The report also contains recommendations for prohibiting the sale and use of mercury-containing thermostats.
The Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association maintains a database of mercury reduction programs in the U.S. This database contains a listing of both regulatory and non-regulatory programs.