June 12, 2006

New federal P2 initiative will target vehicle mercury switches

A forthcoming pollution prevention plan by the federal government for automotive switches containing mercury was welcomed by the Clean Air Foundation. In a speech to the National Press Club marking Clean Air Day, June 8, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose indicated her intention "to eliminate the uncontrolled disposal of mercury switches from the processing of scrap cars.

"I will be using my authority under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to issue a Pollution Prevention Planning Notice for the automotive and steel sectors," she stated, adding, "This action will help prevent the release into the environment - mostly to the air - of almost ten tonnes of mercury over the next ten years."

The Clean Air Foundation views this initiative as an essential first step toward protecting people and the environment from unnecessary exposure to marcury, a potent neurotoxin. "Until now in Canada, mercury switches have been removed voluntarily by responsible auto recyclers participating in the Switch Out program," said Ersilia Serafini, the group's executive director.

"Switch Out, run by our Foundation, has successfully recovered more than 130,000 mercury switches in the past few years. A national program will do even more to prevent mercury from entering the waste stream and subsequently emitting into the environment," she continued.

Until recently, mercury was used in automobiles in switches that control convenience lighting, in some anti-lock brake systems, dashboard displays and high-intensity headlights. Although their use has been discontinued, as many as 11 million mercury-containing cars are still on the road in Canada. When a car is scrapped the mercury can be released into the atmosphere, unless the material is properly captured by a recycler.

"Recovering mercury switches is a relatively inexpensive and effective way to significantly reduce emissions," noted Serafini, adding, "Partnerships between governments, industries, industry associations, and other non-governmental organizations to address environmental issues like this can achieve tangible and sustainable results."

More information on the Switch Out program is available from Ersilia Serafini, 416/922-9038 ext 242, E-mail eserafini@cleanairfoundation.org.

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