Proposed bill encourages regulating battery disposal


ANNAPOLIS -- Thousands of hearing aid wearers and camera buffs help poison the environment every year, probably without realizing it, members of a Senate committee learned yesterday.

The poison is the mercury in tiny, button-shaped mercuric oxide batteries that power many hearing aids and cameras. When the batteries run out of power, they're tossed in the trash -- with their toxic mercury.

Sen. Idamae Garrott, D-Montgomery, asked her colleagues on the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee yesterday to approve a bill allowing Maryland to regulate disposal of those batteries and make violations a misdemeanor subject to a $100 fine. The legislation also calls on battery makers and retailers to work with the state's Department of Environment to develop a mercury battery recycling program.

Although audiologists and camera store employees say the percentage of mercuric oxide batteries they sell has decreased dramatically in recent years and now represents only a small percentage of their business, they said recycling makes sense.

"I support it, but it is less and less necessary," said William E. Flanders, an audiologist and owner of the Maryland Hearing Aid Service in Annapolis. Mr. Flanders said mercuric oxide batteries that were once common have been replaced during the past decade by longer-lasting zinc air batteries. But he said his company for years has encouraged users of mercury batteries to turn them in when they buy new ones. He, in turn, recycles them.

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