Manufacturers to Label All Mercury-Containing Lamps

Manufacturers to Label All Mercury-Containing Lamps

Fluorescent lamp makers, including General Electric, Sylvania, and Phillips, will soon be required by Vermont law to label all lamps containing mercury sold in-state.

Yet many lamp makers are now expected to label all of the estimated 600 million mercury lamps sold each year across the U.S., according to recent news accounts attributed to their representative. And, after losing a 5-year court battle, lamp makers who opposed efforts by tiny Vermont to "purport to dictate worldwide lamp labeling requirements"— are soon expected to label their toxic lamps sold globally, say activists.

"The whole idea behind the Vermont mercury labeling law was to think globally and act locally," say Michael T. Bender, Director of the Mercury Policy Project and an activist who worked on getting the 1998 Vermont mercury law passed. "Mercury pollution is both a local and a global problem, and we aren't going to be able to solve this problem until local communities, governments, and national and multinational companies— one way or the other— work to get this dangerous toxin out of our products and our bodies."

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association, a trade group representing lamp manufacturers, argued in court that the 1998 Vermont mercury labeling law violated the federal Commerce Clause as well as other Constitutional provisions and federal law. While NEMA won the first round in court, it lost in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and again when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear its case.

Although all industries selling fluorescent light bulbs in-state have not yet complied, rules adopted by the State of Vermont required businesses selling mercury-containing lamps to submit final labeling plans by December 15th. After Nov. 30, 2003, all lamps containing mercury sold in Vermont must be labeled, according to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. By that time next year, all lamp manufacturers are also required to labeling lamp packaging and provide a website and toll free number for consumers to readily obtain information on recycling and proper management of spend light bulbs.

Lamps sales in Vermont account for less than $2 million worth of fluorescent lamps purchased annually and represent a tiny percentage of lamp sales nationally. All other manufacturers of mercury-containing products— including makers of thermostats, thermometers and switches— accepted the Vermont mercury labeling law.

Mercury is a highly toxic and widespread contaminant that has resulted in fish consumption advisories for mercury in over 40 states. Recent data released by the CDC indicates that 8% of women of childbearing age in the U.S. have mercury levels in their bodies that exceed federal agency guidelines, placing over 300,000 babies at risk each year from mercury exposure. The FDA recently warned pregnant women and young children to not eat certain seafood due to high mercury levels. In mid-December, the United Nations recently released its first-ever Global Mercury Assessment Report.