January 15, 2007

New rules will require P2 plans by automakers, steel mills for mercury switches

A proposed notice published in the December 9, 2006 Canada Gazette, Part I will require vehicle manufacturers and steel mills that process end-of-life vehicles to develop and implement pollution prevention (P2) plans to address mercury releases from switches found in cars.

Mercury switches are small devices that activate the convenience lights in the hoods and trunks of automobiles and some anti-lock braking systems. The use of mercury in switches ended in 2003, but there are still millions of vehicles on the road with mercury in them.

Manufacturers and steel mills will be required to submit progress reports to the federal Environment Minister on implementation of their P2 plans. Manufacturers will be expected to provide scrap yards with information on how to remove and manage the switches according to federal, provincial or municipal laws.

For their part, steel mills will be expected to recycle only vehicles whose switches have been removed. The proposed federal notice applies to vehicle manufacturers which have used one or more mercury switches since January 1, 1988 and it will require steel mills to participate in the plan until the end of 2017.

Comments are being accepted for a 60-day period ending February 9, 2007.

The initiative is expected to prevent the release of as much as ten tonnes of mercury into the environment, especially into the air, over the next ten years. It complements other government measures to reduce mercury in the environment, such as the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) Canada-Wide Standards to reduce releases of mercury from coal-fired electric power generating plants, base metal smelters, waste incineration, dental amalgam waste, and fluorescent lamps.

It will also support non-governmental programs such as Switch Out, the successful program run by the Clean Air Foundation with support from the Automotive Recyclers of Canada. Since its launch in 2001, Switch Out has collected more than 130,000 mercury switches, with 455 auto recyclers voluntarily participating across Canada. This represents more than 110 kilograms of mercury. (One gram alone is enough to contaminate a 20-acre lake.)

More information is available from Environment Canada regional offices or on-line at www.ec.gc.ca/nopp. Information on the Switch Out program is available on-line at www.cleanairfoundation.org, www.switchout.ca, or www.autorecyclers.ca.

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