Frequently Asked Questions: Proposed Regulation of Mercury-containing Products in Canada
- What is this proposed regulation about?
- Will the labelling requirements apply to all products containing a substance listed in Schedule 1 to CEPA, 1999?
- Where is the proposed regulation available?
- Where and how can stakeholders and the public send comments?
- How long is the comment period?
- Could the proposed regulation be used to control other substances?
- How can I get more information and answers to specific questions?
- Is this proposed regulation part of a broader strategy?
- What is the international community doing about mercury pollution?
- Isn’t there a Government of Canada policy requiring Canadians to use more fluorescent light bulbs that contain mercury?
- Why is the Government encouraging the use of fluorescent lamps if they contain mercury?
- What is the Government of Canada doing to control the amount of mercury in the fluorescent bulbs that will be on the market?
- What is the Government of Canada doing to to keep all of those fluorescent light bulbs out of landfills?
- How will consumers be affected by this regulation?
- What consumer products contain mercury?
- Will consumers be able to keep their weather and medical thermometers that contain mercury?
- What about all of the fluorescent bulbs that consumers are buying now?
- Won’t new products that don’t contain mercury be more expensive than traditional ones that do?
- How can consumers dispose of products that contain mercury?
- Are consumers at risk if they break a fluorescent light bulb?
- How can consumers dispose of burnt out fluorescent light bulbs?
- What about mercury in fish?
Questions and Answers
What is this proposed regulation about?
This proposed regulation will prohibit the import, manufacture, sale and offer for sale of mercury-containing products, with certain exemptions for essential products without viable alternatives, such as dental amalgam (fillings for teeth), and compact fluorescent light bulbs.
Where possible, mercury content limits will be set for exempted products.
The regulation will limit mercury emissions from products in Canada because products on the Canadian marketplace will contain no mercury, or the very low amounts.
There will be the possibility of applying to request an exemption permit for products that might be necessary in the future.
The proposed regulation also includes labelling, certification and reporting requirements for permitted or exempted products.
Will the labelling requirements apply to all products containing a substance listed in Schedule 1 to CEPA, 1999?
No, only products containing mercury or mercury compounds will require labelling.
The purpose of labelling mercury-containing products is to inform consumers that the product contains mercury, what to do if it breaks, as well as options for safely and properly disposing of and recycling the product.
Where and how can stakeholders and the public send comments?
Stakeholders and the public may send comments by e-mail to:
Written comments may be sent by mail to:
Waste Reduction and Management Division
351 St. Joseph Boulevard, 14th floor
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0H3
Written comments may also be sent by fax to 819-997-3068.
How long is the comment period?
Environment Canada is inviting comments on the proposed regulation and associated Regulatory Impact Assessment Statement for 75 days, until May 12th, 2011.
Could the proposed regulation be used to control other substances?
Mercury and mercury compounds are the only substances targeted by the proposed regulation.
The proposed regulation was designed to allow for the future possibility of controlling products containing other substances listed in Schedule 1 to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act,1999.
That process would involve several preliminary steps such as evaluating the risk of the substance in products, examining the different options for risk management instruments, and consultation.
If a decision is made to control another substance using this regulation, this regulation would require amendment, the development of a separate Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement and pre-publication in the Canada Gazette, Part 1 for public comment.
How can I get more information and answers to specific questions?
For more information about the proposed regulation, please contact Environment Canada’s Waste Reduction and Management Division at email@example.com or 819-997-5876.
Government of Canada Actions
Is this proposed regulation part of a broader strategy?
Yes, this proposed regulation is part of the Government of Canada’s integrated Risk Management Strategy for Mercury.
It outlines Canada’s domestic and international actions such as research and monitoring, reporting, waste management, regulatory approaches to reduce emissions and control mercury in products, all to reduce the risk associated with mercury.
What is the international community doing about mercury pollution?
Countries from the United Nations Environment Programme are currently involved in negotiations towards a global legally binding instrument on mercury.
The negotiations are addressing, among other issues, how to reduce the demand for mercury in products.
Canada is an active participant in these negotiations.
The first negotiating session took place in June 2010 in Stockholm, Sweden, and the second negotiating session took place in January 2011 in Chiba, Japan.
The negotiations will conclude by 2013.
Controlling the use of mercury in products will allow Canada to encourage other jurisdictions to take similar measures.
Isn’t there a Government of Canada policy requiring Canadians to use more fluorescent light bulbs that contain mercury?
The Natural Resources Canada regulation sets a minimum performance level for light bulbs imported into Canada or sold inter-provincially. It will essentially phase-out incandescent light bulbs that range from 40 to 60 watts as of December 31st, 2012. Bulbs with higher wattage, such as 75 or 100 W bulbs, will be phased out starting January 1st, 2012.
If citizens across Canada all use more efficient lighting options, there will be a decrease in demand for electricity. Lots of electricity in Canada is generated from coal-firing plants, which are one of the largest sources of mercury emissions in Canada.
The lighting industry has been diligent in developing new energy efficient technologies.
Consumer options include Light-emitting Diode (LED) lights, which are efficient, cool-to-the-touch, and have good durability and long lives (of at least 25,000 hours); Halogen infrared (HIR) bulbs, a type of incandescent bulb that is more efficient than traditional ones; and compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
Mercury is an essential component in fluorescent lamps. It is what allows the lamp to be an efficient light source. Mercury is the only element available that produces the appropriate ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths when excited by an electric current. This UV then excites the phosphor coating to produce visible light.
When the proposed new regulation of mercury-containing products takes effect, all mercury-containing lamps available for purchase in Canada will contain only low quantities of mercury.
Why is the Government encouraging the use of fluorescent lamps if they contain mercury?
By decreasing the demand for electricity from coal-fired generation plants – one of the largest sources of mercury emissions in Canada – the use of more efficient alternatives, including Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs), will help to reduce mercury levels in the environment.
While mercury is a toxic substance, only a small amount is used in a CFL, about the amount to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. There is no risk to health when the lamps are unbroken. Even when a CFL is broken, there is a very low risk to human health, when the broken product is handled and stored with care.
What is the Government of Canada doing to control the amount of mercury in the fluorescent bulbs that will be on the market?
This proposed regulation is intended to result in all mercury-containing lamps available for purchase in Canada containing only low quantities of mercury, and lower than right now.
Those products will be labeled, to inform consumers about what to do if a lamp accidentally breaks, as well as options for safely and properly disposing and recycling mercury-containing lamps at the end of their useful life.
What is the Government of Canada doing to to keep all of those fluorescent light bulbs out of landfills?
Environment Canada has started work on an Extended Producer Responsibility regulation for mercury-containing lamps.
That regulation would require manufacturers or first importers to prepare a stewardship plan that ensures the collection of mercury-containing lamps at the end of their useful life for their environmentally sound recycling.
Environment Canada is consulting with provincial/territorial partners, and all interested stakeholders, to develop that regulation.
The regulation is meant to apply in any province or territory where there is not already an equivalent regulation or legislation in place.
How will consumers be affected by this regulation?
The mercury-containing products regulation is not in effect yet. It is now published as a proposed regulation and is open for public comment.
The proposed regulation targets the manufacturing, importing and retail industries, not individual consumers.
The proposed regulation should have little to no immediate impact on the general public but will help to reduce the number of mercury-containing products in Canadian households, workplaces, and landfills.
What consumer products contain mercury?
Mercury is currently used in many consumer products including fluorescent lamps, thermometers, thermostats and batteries.
Will consumers be able to keep their weather and medical thermometers that contain mercury?
Yes. This proposed regulation will not require Canadians who already own products that contain mercury to get rid of them.
The goal is to limit new products that contain mercury from being manufactured, imported and sold in Canada, starting from when the regulation takes effect.
However, given the risk of mercury release from product breakage and since there are viable alternatives for most mercury-containing products, consumers may decide to replace existing products in their households with non-mercury alternatives.
When disposing of products that contain mercury, it is important not to put them in the garbage. They should be managed in an environmentally sound manner. Many municipalities have recovery programs that handle items that contain hazardous elements.
What about all of the fluorescent bulbs that consumers are buying now?
This proposed regulation is intended to result in all mercury-containing lamps available for purchase in Canada containing only low quantities of mercury.
Compact fluorescent lamps are exempted from the mercury-containing products regulation because they consume much less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs.
Won’t new products that don’t contain mercury be more expensive than traditional ones that do?
Some mercury-free alternatives currently are more expensive than traditional ones with mercury in them.
However, product cost increases are expected to be minimal.
Prices of mercury-free products should come down as demand for them increases.
In some cases, consumers will benefit from choosing newer-technology products that do not contain mercury.
For example, digital thermometers perform more accurately than mercury thermometers.
Programmable, mercury-free thermostats can result in energy savings, a potential benefit to consumers.
Compact fluorescent lamps are more expensive than traditional incandescent bulbs, because they are a better product. Over time, consumers save money because compact fluorescent lamps use less energy than incandescent bulbs do, and last longer. A typical incandescent bulb consumes 60 watts, while a typical CFL consumes only 15 watts.
How can consumers dispose of products that contain mercury?
When getting rid of mercury-containing products, it is important not to put them in the garbage. They should be managed in an environmentally sound manner. Many municipalities have recovery programs that handle items that contain hazardous elements.
Citizens should contact local, provincial or territorial authorities to find out about collection and recycling programs available in their area.
For more information on disposing of mercury-containing products, please see information from Environment Canada’s web site.
Are consumers at risk if they break a fluorescent light bulb?
When a compact fluorescent light bulb is broken, there is a very low risk to your health, unless you mishandle it or store it carelessly.
There is no risk of mercury exposure when the bulbs are intact.
Although fluorescent lamps are considered safe to use, there are some steps consumers can take to further protect themselves and their families.
Health Canada has developed information about how to safely clean up broken fluorescent lamps.
How can consumers dispose of burnt out fluorescent light bulbs?
Mercury-containing lamps must not be thrown in the garbage to enter into landfills and the environment.
Many municipalities have recovery programs that handle items that contain hazardous elements, such as mercury-containing fluorescent light bulbs.
Some retailers, such as RONA, Home Depot and IKEA, have stations where consumers can bring burnt out fluorescent light bulbs for safe disposal.
Consumers should contact their municipal government to ask about local disposal options for fluorescent light bulbs.
What about mercury in fish?
Mercury may be present in fish because all fish pick up small amounts of mercury from the environment and their diet.
Most Canadians should not be concerned about mercury exposure as a result of fish consumption. In general, the types of fish that are most popular in Canada are also relatively low in mercury. However, there are some types of fish that, if eaten too frequently, could result in exposure to an unacceptable amount of mercury.
Fish, when sold at retail, is considered a food product and is already regulated under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. As such, Health Canada has already put in place extensive risk management activities related to the presence of mercury in fish. Provincial and territorial authorities also provide fish consumption advice to the public related to mercury for recreational, sport and subsistence consumers.
Fish has several nutritional benefits and is an important part of a healthy diet. According to Health Canada's Food Guide, it is recommended that Canadians eat at least two servings (of 75 grams each) of fish a week.
To protect Canadians from this source of mercury exposure, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency enforces Health Canada standards for mercury in fish.
For more information, please visit Health Canada’s Mercury in Fish - Consumption advice.
Questions for Stakeholders
How will this proposed regulation affect manufacturers or importers of mercury-containing products?
Under the proposed regulation, the manufacture or import of mercury-containing products would be prohibited, unless the product is listed in the Schedule of the regulation, has received a permit, or mercury is only incidentally present in the product. Also, the proposed regulation will not apply to certain products such as waste, products intended for recycling, drugs, veterinary biologics and military ammunition and explosives.
It would be the manufacturers’ or the importers’ responsibility to apply for a permit to manufacture or import a mercury-containing product other than those listed on the Schedule of this regulation.
Certain conditions would have to be met for a permit to be issued. The product must play an important role in the protection of human health or the environment; there must be no viable alternative product; and there must be an end-of-life management plan for it.
Manufacturers and importers would be required to appropriately label mercury-containing products, and to ensure that the quantity of mercury in lamps is certified by a Standards Council of Canada accreditation body such as the Canadian Standards Association.
Manufacturers and importers would also be required to submit annual reports to Environment Canada with information about the quantity of mercury-containing products that were manufactured or imported, and to keep adequate records.
Anyone who sells to a supplier, wholesaler or retailer would also be subject to record-keeping requirements.
How will this proposed regulation affect retailers who sell mercury-containing products?
Under the proposed regulation, retailers would be prohibited from selling or offering for sale mercury-containing products, unless the product is listed as an exemption in the Schedule of the regulation, has received a permit, was manufactured before the coming into force of the regulation, contains only an incidental quantity of mercury, or is not subject to this regulation.
Retailers would also be required to ensure that products they sell or offer for sale meet the labelling requirements set out in the regulation.
What about the mercury used in medical applications?
The proposed regulation will not apply to products where the risk from mercury is covered by other legislation and regulations. For example, drugs, including vaccines and homeopathic medicines, are managed by Health Canada through the Food and Drugs Act.
Compared to other sources, drugs are an insignificant source of mercury release to the environment and therefore have no impact on levels of mercury in the environment or environmental effects of mercury on human health.
Why is dental amalgam exempt from the proposed regulation?
Dental amalgam is exempted from the proposed regulation because it is considered necessary for the oral health of Canadians. There are applications in which alternative composite materials are not suitable, and there is no clinical evidence that the use of dental amalgam is causing illness in the general population. For more information, please refer to the Health Canada document on The Safety of Dental Amalgam.
To help keep the mercury from dental amalgam out of the environment, Environment Canada published a Pollution Prevention Planning Notice requiring dental practices that had not already implemented best practices for the safe disposal of dental amalgam waste to prepare and implement pollution prevention plans.
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