Posted by: Daryl & Wendy Ashby | September 20, 2011

Good Time to Switch

Do you have a mercury-filled thermostat that dates back to the days when avocado appliances were modern?

Well, the heating and cooling industry thinks it’s time to toss those dated units for new, energy-efficient, programmable models — preventing them from contaminating our air, soil, water and, ultimately, our food sources.

And they’re willing to help.

This is the fifth anniversary of the Switch the ’Stat program, organized by the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI). The goal is to provide Canadians with safe and easy ways to dispose of the old mercury-containing thermostats.

Since the program began in April 2006, Switch the ’Stat has recovered 45,872 thermostats containing 71,408 mercury switches. These switches represent the safe recovery of 178.5 kilograms of mercury.
To put this contamination concern into perspective, Darrell McCagg, manager of the Ottawa heating and air conditioning company, E.N. Blue Ltd., says older mechanical thermostats typically have between one and four mercury switches, each containing approximately 2.5 grams of the silvery liquid in the bulbs.

 

“The important thing is a gram doesn’t sound like a lot, but one gram of mercury put into an eight-hectare lake [about 20 acres] will affect the lake for one year and the fish in that lake will be inedible,” Mr. McCagg says.

He says there are no health risks for the homeowner when the mercury thermostat hangs on the wall. But in the case of home demolition, fire or simply tossing the unit in the garbage, it’s a different story when it lands in the dump — and the crushed glass vials of the toxic metal leach into the groundwater and contaminate rivers and lakes.

Mercury is especially harmful to children and women of child-bearing age because it can inhibit the development of the brain and nervous system.

The thermostats are recycled through a three-step process, which includes removal of the glass vial that contains the mercury, separation of the mercury through distillation, and recycling the metal components, including iron, copper, nickel and aluminum, from the old thermostats.

Currently, Switch the ’Stat operates throughout Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba with plans for expansion.

Some HRAI members will safely dispose of the thermostat for a client.

“When we are in putting in new furnaces, or we are putting in new air conditioners,” Mr. McCagg says, “we collect these thermostats and once we have a full box of them, we ship them back to a company called Summerhill [Impact].

“They process [and separate] these through a three-part recycling program … and then reuse them in products.”

Retailers that will accept them for recycling at no cost include Home Depot and Rona.

Visit switchthestat.ca to find contractors registered in the program in your area.

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