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AB 1234 Report on League of California Cities Environmental Quality Committee

I was reappointed to the League of California Cities Environmental Quality Policy Committee by the president of the League of California Cities, Jim Madaffer, Council Member, San Diego, and the first meeting of 2008 occurred today in Sacramento. Click here for the full agenda and packet. This is one of the extracurricular activities of councilmembers you don’t hear much about but which can have a profound effect on public policy and legislation in California that affects cities and their residents. Several other Richmond councilmember serve on League of California Cities policy committees.

The League's policy-making process allows the issues facing California cities to be debated and the organization's policy directions to be established. Close to 400 city officials serve on the League's policy committees. The committees meet four times each year (Typically in January, March, June and at annual conference in September or October). The League’s lobbyists monitor legislation at the state level and attempt to influence it in favor of California cities and the people who live in those cities.

The Environmental Quality Policy Committee focused on reviewing and revising its 2008 work program, including the proposed League Climate Change Policy. One area of extended discussion involved making producers responsible for dealing with waste created by their products. A specific example would be compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) which have been touted as a major energy conservation solution. What few people realize is that on February 8, 2006, California’s Universal Waste Rule, (CCR, Title 22, Division 4.5, Chapter 23) went into effect, which among other things, bans the landfill disposal of fluorescent light bulbs, along with household batteries and electronic devices. Fluorescent lights contain mercury, and despite the ban, most household fluorescent lights end up getting tossed in the trash, where the mercury ends up in someone’s house, on the street, in the air or in a landfill where it enters groundwater. Mercury is a toxin that can have profound health effects.


The standard fluorescent lamp contains approximately 20 milligrams of mercury. CFLs contain about 5 milligrams. While there are no known health hazards from exposure to lamps that are intact, improper disposal of fluorescent lamps can contaminate the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that over 800 million lamps are produced each year to replace 800 million lamps that are then disposed. Since 1 gram of mercury is enough to contaminate a 2-acre pond, there is enough mercury in those lamps to contaminate 20 million acres of water.

Mercury is toxic to the human nervous system. Chronic breathing of mercury vapors can cause a range of physical symptoms, including inability to coordinate body movement and impairment of hearing, speech and vision. Exposure to mercury in other forms can lead to skin rashes and kidney damage.

Elemental mercury that is released to the environment can be deposited into lakes, rivers, and the oceans where a biological process takes place in which the mercury is converted into methylmercury, a highly toxic organic form of mercury. The methylmercury is then consumed by various animals in the food chain where it bioaccumulates, concentrating to higher and higher levels in larger animals. Consumption of larger mammals could cause elevated levels of methylmercury in humans, resulting in neurological damage to unborn children. According to estimates by the National Wildlife Federation, 85,000 U.S. women of childbearing age in a given year are exposed to elevated methylmercury levels sufficient to affect the brain development of their babies.


Although there is a fairly effective organization for safe recycling of commercial fluorescent lights by major users, few resources are available for household users. The responsibility for safe disposal of these toxic products falls to local agencies that administer waste collection and disposal. The true cost of CFLs is subsidized by the public, but value is not actually provided. The future liability for improper disposal of these products is assumed by cities with no way to pay for it. The concept of Extended Producer Responsibility makes the manufacturers responsible for the cost of safe disposal or recycling rather than the public. Proposed California legislation on this subject has been routinely beaten back by industry lobbyists the last couple of years, but the League of California Cities is trying to change that.


For lots of information on this subject, visit http://www.caproductstewardship.org/ and http://www.almr.org/. Heidi Sanborn of the California Product Stewardship Council and Paul Abernathy of the Association f lighting and Mercury Recyclers gave presentations today and answered questions.


The Environmental Quality Policy Committee ultimately adopted language that strengthened and encouraged Extended Producer Responsibility.