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Some facts and figures on mercury and new high-efficiency light bulbs

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OTTAWA - New federal standards for energy efficiency begin Jan. 1, 2014, generally forbidding purchases of old-style incandescent light bulbs while encouraging their widespread replacement by mercury-containing compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs. Some facts and figures:

Genesis: In April 2007, Conservative government proposes new energy-efficiency regulations, to come into effect beginning Jan. 1, 2012. Regulations amended in October 2011 to delay implementation by two years, starting Jan. 1, 2014, to "allay" concerns of consumers about cost and flexibility.

Impact: Regulations would not ban incandescents outright, but would effectively require retailers to replace them with so-called compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs, which contain small amounts of toxic mercury. Another more expensive alternative is mercury-free LED lights. Government also proposes allowing incandescent halogen lamps, which are not as efficient as CFLs but are cheaper and contain no mercury.

Quantity: Environment Canada estimates the regulations would require about 1,500 kilograms of new mercury in CFLs between 2014 and 2026. Other consumer goods now containing mercury include some batteries, switches, relays and thermometers.

Current consumer mercury: Environment Canada estimates the use and disposal of products containing mercury represent about 27 per cent of Canada's current domestic emissions of this toxic metal.

Foreign sources: Some 96 per cent of human-made mercury pollution deposited in Canada every year arrives through airborne foreign emissions, with China as a major source because of its coal-fired plants.

Dangers: Minute amounts of mercury can have serious health consequences. The substance can cross the placenta into the fetus, can be transmitted through breast milk, and is often concentrated in fish, birds and marine mammals, especially in the Arctic. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, and can cause tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular changes, headaches and other problems.

Recycling/waste facilities: A 2012 report found 123 facilities that store or manage mercury waste in Canada. There is no facility in Canada to extract pure mercury from waste for recycling. Waste often sent to U.S.

Managing CFL mercury waste: Federal government has proposed but not enacted limits on the amount of mercury permitted in each CFL. Ottawa also considering compelling manufacturers and importers to manage the mercury waste from the CFLs they sell, through recycling or proper disposal, but has not yet proposed regulations.

Consumers: Consumers who have CFLs that are broken or burnt out should not dispose of them with regular garbage. Rather, they need to be taken to a waste facility or retail program for proper disposal of the mercury content. One website with advice on finding a local waste facility is Earth911.com.

Average service life: Traditional incandescent bulbs, 1,095 hours; CFLs, 8,000; incandescent halogen bulbs, 1,095.

Cost-benefit: Natural Resources says new regulations would deliver between $749 million and $2.4 billion in energy and greenhouse gas savings for Canadians, including 7.5 megatonnes of reduced annual greenhouse-gas emissions in 2025.

(Sources: Environment Canada, Health Canada, Summerhill Impact, Environmental Defence, Statistics Canada)

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