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Mercury Releases from Mercury Switches in End-Of-Life Vehicles

Progress Report: Pollution Prevention Planning and Mercury Switches

Progress Report: Pollution Prevention Planning and Mercury Switches (PDF; 157 KB)

Photo of a mercury-containing switchPollution Prevention (P2) Planning is a process by which organizations can improve their environmental performance by strategically planning to reduce or eliminate pollution before it is created.

Last Updated: June 2010 (based on data from the second Interim Progress Report)

Those subject to the P2 Planning Notice have prepared their P2plans.

This report summarizes the information that was received in their Declarations of Preparation and their two Interim Progress Reports.

A Notice requiring vehicle manufacturers and steel mills to prepare and implement pollution prevention plans was published on December 29, 2007.

Those subject to the Notice were required to submit a Declaration that a Pollution Prevention Plan Has Been Prepared and Is Being Implemented by July 27, 2008, an Interim Progress Report #1 by January 12, 2009, and an Interim Progress Report #2 by January 12, 2010.

Summary of Expected Results

The targeted vehicle manufacturers and steel mills have committed to fund the Summerhill Impact (formerly Clean Air Foundation) "Switch Out" program and expand it nationally. As indicated by the companies targeted by the Notice in the Declaration of Preparation, the anticipated capture rate, which means the number of mercury switches annually managed and expressed as a percentage of the estimated total number of accessible mercury switches in end-of-life vehicles, should reach 70% within the first four years of the program for a total amount of 505 000 switches to be collected. An anticipated additional 609 000 switches will be collected between 2013 and 2017. In total, 1 114 000 switches (~950 kg of Hg) are expected to be collected by the program.

The vehicle manufacturers have all committed to develop and distribute guidance material for the vehicle recyclers that specifies the location of mercury switches in the vehicle they manufactured. All the steel mills committed to develop or have already developed a purchasing policy that requires that the end-of-life steel purchased have had the accessible mercury switches removed. 

Progress Towards Meeting Objectives

In January 2009, the reporting companies indicated in their Interim Progress Report #1 that a total of 64 011 switches (~55 kg of Hg) were collected in 2008, which was the first year of operation of the switch collection program. This represented a capture rate of 19.7%. Companies had previously indicated in their Declaration of Preparation that their expected capture rate target for 2008 was 12%.

The Interim Progress Report #2 was submitted in January 2010. Reporting companies recorded that 112 167 switches (~96 kg of Hg) were collected in 2009, representing a 37.4% capture rate. The anticipated capture rate for the second year of the program as reported in the Declarations of Preparation was 20%.

In addition to the Switch Out Program, certain steel mills are participating in the Evraz Mercury Recovery Program, which collected 29 204 additional switches (~25 kg of Hg). A grand total of 141 371 switches (~121 kg of Hg) was collected by the two programs in 2009.

Therefore, the switch collection program has exceeded its targets set out for the first and second years of operation. The final declaration, Declaration that a Pollution Prevention Plan Has Been Implemented, will be submitted in January 2012.

A bar graph showing the anticipated numbers of switches collected.

Figure: Amount of Mercury Switches Captured by the Switch Collection Program – Anticipated vs Actual

Graphic representation of the anticipated and the actual amount of mercury switches captured by the switch collection program.

The anticipated numbers of switches collected are:

  • 39 000 in 2008;
  • 60 000 in 2009;
  • 112 000 in 2010;
  • 129 000 in 2011;
  • 165 000 in 2010;
  • 151 000 in 2013;
  • 136 000 in 2014;
  • 121 000 in 2015;
  • 107 000 in 2016; and,
  • 94 000 in 2017.

The actual numbers of switches collected are: in 2008, 64 011 switches were collected by the Switch Out program and, the following year, 112 167 switches were collected by the Switch Out program and 29 204 switches were collected by the Evraz Mercury Recovery program for a total of 141 371 switches collected in 2009.


Mercury Switches in Automobiles

Mercury switches are small devices that activate the convenience lights in the hoods and trunks of automobiles and some anti-lock braking systems. Mercury has not been used in switches since 2006, but there are still millions of vehicles on the road with mercury switches in them.

Mercury: What Is It and Why Prevent Its Pollution?

Mercury is a transboundary pollutant of global concern that impacts human and environmental health.

Low levels of mercury, a neurotoxin, can cause severe health problems, especially for future mothers and their babies. Mercury also has measurable impacts on fish and wildlife. Mercury is listed on Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), which provides the authority for the Ministers of Environment and Health to take action.


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