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Thermostats go mercury-free in PA

Planning on installing a programmable thermostat to save on heating and cooling costs?

Good idea. Factoring in local energy rates, the federal government's Energy Star program estimates savings of more than $2,000 over the lifetime of a programmable thermostat, including its original cost.

Sure, you could just raise and lower the setting on your thermostat yourself, morning and night, but it's difficult to remember.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection officials just held an event at the Hardware Center in Paoli, touting a new state law requiring that any thermostat sold in the state after Dec. 8, 2009,  be  mercury-free.

Tom Fidler, the DEP's deputy secretary for waste, air and radiation management, also unveiled a statewide recycling program that will allow citizens to safely dispose of out-of-service thermostats containing mercury.

They're tiny instruments, to be sure, but according to  the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about six to eight tons of mercury from discarded thermostats ends  up in landfills — or, worse, incinerators — each year. In an incinerator, the mercury becomes airborne, then settles into a lake or stream and enters the food chain. Many waterways throughout Pennsylvania have been placed under fish consumption advisories because of mercury contamination.

Thermostat retailers are not required to meet recycling requirements for another year, but some wholesalers are providing collections to contractors and the public through a program created by the nonprofit Thermostat Recycling Corp. To find a participating wholesaler in your community, call the Thermostat Recycling Corp. at 800-238-8192.

The new thermostat law is the latest of Pennsylvania's  efforts to reduce mercury releases into the environment. The Clean Air Mercury Rule will result in an 80 percent cut in mercury emissions from all Pennsylvania coal-fired power plants by 2010, and a 90 percent reduction by 2015.