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Ford rejects request to recall switches

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Top state attorneys from around the country asked Ford Motor Co. Monday to replace light switches containing mercury during the current recall of defective tires.

But Ford said it has no plans to comply with the states' attorneys general request. Instead, it will continue phasing out its use of the mercury switches, said Ford spokeswoman Robyn Schultz.

This is the final year the switches will be installed, and Ford has encouraged salvage operations and other recyclers to remove the switches before cars are destroyed, Schultz said.

The attorneys general said in a letter to Ford that the voluntary replacement of mercury switches would prevent more than 2 million grams of mercury from release into the environment. The mercury is released, potentially into ground water, when cars are crushed or burned in recycling.

The amount of mercury in the switches of just four cars is enough to contaminate a 17-acre lake, said a spokesman for New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

"As part of its current recall of millions of vehicles, the company could quickly and easily replace hood and trunk light switches that pose a significant environmental hazard," Spitzer said.

Mercury exposure over long periods causes neurological damage in children, and mercury in fish eaten by women can threaten a pregnancy.

Replacing mercury switches with 38-cent ball-bearing switches would cost Ford hundreds of thousands of dollars in parts alone.

The mercury bubble activates the light switch as the hood or trunk lid is opened. The states' attorneys say a switch activated by a ball bearing will do the job as well, at a cost of about 8 cents to 10 cents more.

In addition to New York, other states and U.S. territories asking Ford to recall the switches are: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virgin Islands and West Virginia.