The Clean Car Campaign, a coalition of 26 environmental groups, is calling on Ford and other automakers to remove toxic mercury from vehicles in for service, repair or recall.
The campaign also endorses a similar call by 26 state attorneys general urging Ford to remove mercury-containing devices as part of their Firestone tire recall.
Mercury is a potent toxic chemical that can cause brain, lung and kidney damage in humans.
The substance has been used in switches for hoods and truck convenience lighting, and in other devices, becoming a contaminant when vehicles are scrapped.
The Clean Car Campaign sent letters to the heads of Ford, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors asking the auto industry to show leadership in getting the toxic substance out of the environment by having dealers remove switches for free when vehicles come in for service.
"It''s time for automakers to take responsibility for the environmental hazards of their vehicles," said Charles Griffith, Auto Project director at the Ecology Center. "By replacing these mercury switches they can protect the environment and consumers with a simple, affordable fix."
Concerns about exposure to mercury have grown in recent years, with many states and stores banning mercury thermometers.
More than 40 states have issued fish consumption advisories for mercury, and the National Academy of Sciences 2000 mercury report found that more than 60,000 children may suffer from exposure to mercury while the womb.
The Clean Car Campaign proposes a national program for collecting up to 90 percent of the mercury switches now on the road, that includes working with both auto dealers and recyclers.
The campaign released two reports earlier this year that document the continued use of mercury in automobiles and snow automobiles to be one of the nation''s largest sources of airborne mercury emissions, just behind power plants and incinerators.
Estimates suggest that up to 10 tons of toxic mercury may be released each year when vehicles are scrapped; nearly 200 tons of mercury are contained in vehicles currently on the road.
by Virginia Sutcliffe