The federal government has announced that it is starting a regulatory process to prohibit the manufacture, import, and sale of most mercury-containing products in Canada.
“It is the first time that the government of Canada is broadly regulating mercury found in manufactured products,” Environment Minister Peter Kent said in a statement Monday.
The move, part of a global effort to reduce mercury pollution through the UNPA Global Mercury Partnership, aims to reduce the amount of mercury getting into the environment from products.
“These proposed regulations would eliminate about four-and-a-half tonnes of mercury in products currently entering the Canadian marketplace each year,” said Kent.
The sale of items such as thermostats and batteries containing mercury would be banned under new regulations, as would thermometers. Nearly three centuries after it was invented by David Fahrenheit, the mercury glass thermometer will be no more in Canada, although the medical industry has long since replaced them with digital thermometers.
“For consumers, most mercury products have comparably priced and technically equivalent alternatives,” the proposal says. “In some cases, such as thermostats, mercury-free alternatives offer improved performance and efficiency.”
The regulations would contribute to international efforts to reduce annual global damage costs from methyl mercury, which are anticipated to reach US$10 billion by 2020, according to the proposal.
“Without regulation, Canada’s product-based emissions are expected to grow as imported products, which tend to have high mercury content, enter the Canadian marketplace in greater numbers,” the proposal says.
Domestic manufacturing of mercury products is limited to lamps and neon signs.
Some mercury-containing products will still be allowed to be manufactured and imported, including scientific instruments, fluorescent lamps, and dental fillings, but limits on the amount of mercury will be applied. In addition, improved label information regarding mercury content in a given product and instructions for safely disposing such products will be required.
After mercury enters the environment, it can transform into methylmercury, a harmful form of the substance that could be absorbed by living organisms such as fish. As methylmercury goes up the food chain, it becomes increasingly more concentrated.
“Mercury is a neurotoxin. Ingesting methylmercury can affect the neuro-development and learning ability of small children,” said Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq. “Keeping products that contain mercury out of the marketplace helps to protect the health of Canadians.”
The proposed regulations were published on Feb. 26 in the Canadian Gazette and have a 75-day comment period.