Check your hearing aid: Batteries might be illegal under new state law

News-DemocratJuly 5, 2013 

You probably won't have to worry about police storming your home and inspecting your hearing aid, but the device might contain an illegal battery, according to a new state law.

Zinc-air button batteries have been popular for hearing aids since the late 1970s. However, they contain mercury, so Illinois and some others states are now banning them.

The U.S. banned mercury from alkaline batteries in the mid-1990s. Button-size batteries were exempt from the ban because manufacturers said they did not have the technology to produce effective, mercury-free batteries in the button size. Now, though, manufacturers say they've come up with mercury-free button batteries that perform almost as well as ones containing mercury.

Kevin Greene of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said mercury can persist for a long time in the environment.

"Mercury doesn't break down.For that reason it has been listed as a persistent, bioaccumulative toxin. If mercury gets into a waterbody, it can be converted into a more toxic form, methylmercury," Greene said.

He added, "Mercury can build up in the body and damage the brain, kidney and central nervous system. People are exposed to mercury most when they eat food contaminated with mercury, especially fish."

Illinois' ban on the zinc air button batteries makes it illegal to "sell, offer to sell or distribute" them. The law, Public Act 97-1107, doesn't say anything about simply possessing the batteries.

The legislation, filed by Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, was passed unanimously last year by both the House and Senate. Gov. Pat Quinn signed it into law in August. The law took effect Monday.

Sandoval said the ban will "will further lead to protecting human health and the environment."

Some mercury-containing zinc air batteries are still on the market, but new types of batteries sold by Rayovac, Energizer, Duracell and some other manufacturers no longer contain mercury.

Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, touched on the law in an advisory to constituents, in which he listed new laws taking effect this week.

"Oftentimes the public is not aware of new laws since there are numerous laws that take effect, it is important for the public to be informed," Kay said.

Other new laws taking effect this week:

* Persons caught driving more than 31 mph above the posted speed limit will not be allowed to obtain court supervision. The new law (SB 2888) approved by the legislature is called "Julie's Law." In 2011, Julie Gorczynski was the passenger of a vehicle struck by another vehicle traveling 76 mph in a 40 mph zone. She died in the crash.

* SB 3638, which creates a board to license sex offender evaluators and treatment providers.

* SB 3764, which provides greater guidance as to the name of a debtor to be provided on financing statements.

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