1. I’ve heard that autos have mercury switches; what are mercury switches and why are they there?
2. Are there other mercury-containing devices in cars I need to be aware of?
- Mercury switches are used in autos to operate convenience lights such as trunk and hood lights, to operate ABS systems, antitheft systems, and rarely, some airbag systems. Here’s what a typical switch looks like.
The left object is a mercury switch. The center object is a ball bearing switch with no mercury. The dime is shown for the purpose of size comparison.
- Each mercury switch contains about 1.2 grams of liquid mercury
- These switches are usually easily located and can be removed within a matter of several minutes.
- A ball bearing switch can be identified by the sound of the ball bearing rattling when the switch is shaken.
- Depending on the automobile’s make and model, the entire housing or sensor must often be removed to remove the mercury switch. Fortunately, almost all manufacturers stopped using mercury switches in new cars in 2003. However, many older model cars used these switches.
- The department strongly encourages auto recycling operators to remove all mercury switches from vehicles before the vehicles are crushed or sent to a metals recovery facility such as an electric arc furnace steel mill.
- Mercury left in auto scrap can be released to the environment in the steel mill smelting operation.
3. If I remove the switches how can I dispose of them correctly?
- Yes. High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps contain a small amount of mercury and should also be removed from a vehicle before crushing or being sent to the mill. Navigation displays often have one or two cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) to backlight the display. CCFLs contain a small amount of elemental mercury as vapor. These lamps or the entire display should also be removed before crushing or smelting.
- The department recommends these switches be managed as mercury-containing items using the Universal Waste Rules in Title 128, Chapter 25. See our Guidance Document “Universal Waste Regulations” on our web site.
- Have a mercury spill kit available.
- If not managed as Universal Waste, the mercury-containing items must be managed as hazardous waste.
- See below for examples of companies that can manage mercury wastes. Call first.
- NDEQ Waste Management Section - (402) 471-4210
- NDEQ Toll Free Number - (877) 253-2603
- NDEQ Hazardous Waste Compliance Assistant - (402) 471-8308
- Email questions to: NDEQ.firstname.lastname@example.org
Titles are available on the NDEQ Home Page under “Laws/Regs & EQC”, “Rules & Regulations”
Produced by: Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 98922, Lincoln, NE 68509-8922; phone (402) 471-2186. To view this, and other information related to our agency, visit our web site at http://deq.ne.gov.