The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Federal report suggests Canada unprepared for new mercury light bulbs

  • Print

OTTAWA - Canada's mercury-waste facilities are either patchwork or non-existent as millions of light bulbs containing the highly toxic chemical are set to flood the marketplace.

That's a key finding of a report commissioned by Environment Canada in the run-up to a major change in the way Canadians light their homes.

Beginning next January, a new regulation will effectively ban the sale of standard incandescent bulbs in favour of energy-efficient versions, most of which contain mercury.

So-called compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs, will also enter the waste stream as they break or burn out, many destined for landfills where their harmful mercury can get into the water.

Environment Canada says the mercury contained in a typical thermometer can contaminate five Olympic-size swimming pools to toxic levels.

Ironically, the ban on incandescents is partly designed to reduce mercury in the environment because old-style light bulbs are inefficient, and require more electricity from the burning of coal and other fossil fuels that can emit mercury into the air.

Environmentalists applaud the ban for eliminating far more fossil-fuel mercury than the new bulbs add — but say Environment Canada must also require the recycling or safe storage of broken CFLs.

"Currently municipalities do not store mercury — most of it ends up in landfill," says a report commissioned from Summerhill Impact, an environmental firm in Toronto.

The Aug. 31 study also found no national or industry-wide standards for the handling of mercury waste.

There was "significant variability between regulations across the provinces, and ... nearly all (mercury-handling) facilities ... rely on these regulations as their main environmental management guidelines, rather than industry standards."

The study, which surveyed some 28 of the 123 places that store or manage mercury waste, also found Canada lacks any facility to extract pure mercury from waste, relying instead on mercury distillers in the United States.

The authors warn that with growing restrictions on trans-border movements of mercury, such as a U.S. ban on pure mercury exports effective Jan. 1 this year, Canada may need to resolve pending storage issues.

"The sector is notably lacking distillation facilities that make mercury re-use possible," says the report, which cost the department $47,000.

"This suggests that Canada may need to lay the groundwork for investigating best practices for longer-term storage options for elemental mercury as export bans in other jurisdictions such as the USA could negatively impact their demand for mercury waste from Canadian sources."

A heavily censored copy of the 127-page report was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The ban on incandescent light bulbs was announced with fanfare by then-environment minister John Baird in 2007, as the new Conservative government was under pressure to take action on climate change.

The ban was to have come into effect starting Jan. 1, 2012, but was pushed back two years to "allay" the concerns of Canadian consumers.

As of Jan. 1 next year, 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs will be effectively eliminated from store shelves, with 40- and 60-watt versions to follow Dec. 31. Canadian retailers have already begun to switch their stocks to CFLs from incandescents to get ready.

Environment Canada has proposed, but not yet enacted, regulations setting a maximum on the amount of mercury the new bulbs can contain. The new rules are expected to be published later this year, to come into effect one year later.

And a spokesman says the department will propose other regulations later this year that will make manufacturers and importers responsible for managing the waste of their mercury-containing bulbs.

"It is anticipated that the proposed regulations would require manufacturers and importers of mercury-containing lamps to establish or join a program that would collect lamps and recover the mercury in an environmentally sound manner," Mark Johnson said in an email.

Johnson did not provide a time frame for the proposals, which must go through a mandatory period of public and industry comment. The industry will also need time to set up or expand any recycling or storage facilities.

Bob Oliver of Pollution Probe said the coming ban is welcome, but that Environment Canada must enforce a system requiring producers to recycle the waste from their mercury-tainted bulbs.

"That might be just like a bottle-return system, some type of deposit you might pay," he said in an interview from Toronto.

"There is no safe level of exposure to mercury. You need a plan in place ... to make sure you're managing the flow of mercury through our waste system."

Maggie MacDonald of Environmental Defence stressed the importance of educating consumers about the need to keep the new bulbs out of landfills.

She cited a website — Earth911.com — that helps consumers locate toxic-waste facilities in their communities.

"It is a bit of a concern that we don't have a facility in Canada for distillation (of mercury)," she added in an interview from Toronto.

Most of the mercury deposited in Canada arrives from foreign sources through the atmosphere. The Arctic in particular has become a mercury sink where the chemical accumulates in fish, birds and mammals.

A dangerous neurotoxin, mercury can cross the placental barrier into the fetus, and is found in breast milk. Minute amounts can damage nervous systems, and even lower IQ levels.

———

Disposal tips for consumers on the web: http://environmentaldefence.ca/blog/shedding-some-light-mercury-and-cfls

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Steve Ashton Leadership Bid

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A young gosling flaps his wings after taking a bath in the duck pond at St Vital Park Tuesday morning- - Day 21– June 12, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A golfer looks for his ball in a water trap at John Blumberg Golf Course Friday afternoon as geese and goslings run for safety- See Joe Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge- Day 24– June 15, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

With the Canadian junior team off to such a great start, will you be watching the World junior hockey championship?

View Results

Ads by Google