Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment

BACKGROUNDER – Mercury-containing Lamps – Canada-wide Standards

1.      What is the Canada-Wide Standard for  Mercury-containing Lamps?    

The  intent of the CWS is to reduce releases of mercury to the environment from  mercury-containing lamps.  By 2010, the  mercury content of lamps will decline by 80%, from 1990 levels, thereby reducing  emissions from manufacturing, land-filling, incineration and lamp breakage  (currently 40 Kg/year).  In addition,  recycling initiatives could see a significant reduction in the amount of mercury  going to landfills.  This standard  applies to all mercury-containing lamps,  including fluorescent lamps such as the compact lamp and the more familiar  four-foot lamps as well as high intensity discharge lamps (i.e. mercury-vapor, metal halide and high pressure sodium  lamps (streetlights)).  The lamp industry  has committed to providing reports on the average content of lamps sold in  Canada, so that the public can track progress.

2.      What is the science on mercury?  

Mercury  is a naturally occurring substance as well as a pollutant originating from  various human activities.  Levels in  soils, water and fish can vary across the country depending on the geology of  the rocks and soils and the amount of pollution.  Once mercury is released into the air, it can circle the globe several times  before falling into lakes, streams, forests and fields.  Present levels in fish from some water bodies  are unsafe for fish-eating wildlife, such as loons and otters.  Fish in many areas cannot be eaten safely by  humans.  Elevated levels of mercury in  the fish eaten by women of child-bearing age pose a threat to the health of  their newborns, which are much more sensitive than adults.  Overt signs of acute toxicity are not  apparent in Canadians, but studies show that low levels of mercury can have  subtle impacts on the neurobehavioral development and learning ability of  children.  Higher levels of mercury in  children and adults are known to affect the kidneys and nervous system.  

3.      Extent of the problem  

Mercury  levels in fish have an impact on recreational and subsistence fish consumption  in most jurisdictions, and affect First Nations' traditional way of life and  food sources.  These impacts are  significant across northern Canada, though the source of most of the mercury is  due to human activities in the south.  A  substantial component of the threat originates from mercury emitted in the  United States and other northern hemispheric countries.  These emissions of mercury are carried to  Canada by prevailing wind patterns.  Asian and European countries such as China and Russia emit mercury which is  carried to Canada over the North Pole.

An average of 60  million mercury-containing lamps are sold in Canada annually.  By reducing the mercury content of lamps, and  promoting lamp recycling and  recovery programs and the use of energy efficient lighting systems in government  buildings, mercury emissions from lamps will decrease substantially.  Controlling Canadian emissions can help  reduce the threat to both humans and wildlife, as well as set an example for  other countries to follow.

4.          Achieving the Standard  

Efforts towards achievement of this CWS will begin with the  initial actions listed in the companion document to the CWS.  Jurisdictions' detailed plans for achieving  this mercury CWS will be developed and implemented following the signing of the  CWS, expected in May, 2001.

From an international perspective, this CWS will help  Canada meet its international commitments (e.g. Canadian delivery of the North  American Commission for Environmental Co-operation’s Mercury Action Plan and the  New England Governors/Eastern Canadian Premiers Mercury Action Plan) and obtain  the necessary international efforts to reduce or eliminate mercury releases to  the global pool.

Further information is available from the CCME’s website  at