Risk management strategy for products containing mercury: chapter 2


Background

Since the closure of the Pinchi Lake Mine in 1975, there has been no mining or production of mercury in Canada. Supplies of mercury in Canada are provided via imports. Mercury is imported in various forms e.g. as elemental mercury, in mercury-containing compounds, in mercury-containing products, and as a trace contaminant in other materials. Mercury from primary sources accounts for about 60% of world use, with the remainder supplied from recycled sources.

Annual imports of elemental mercury into Canada have varied over the last twenty years from a high of over 50 tonnes in 1990 to under 9 tonnes per year in 2001, 2002, and 2003. In 2003, a total of 6.4 tonnes of mercury were exported from Canada. This exported mercury was all destined for U.S. recycling facilities.

Also in 2003, domestic manufacturing of mercury-containing products accounted for roughly half of all elemental mercury imports. The remaining elemental mercury imports were used in a variety of processes ranging from scientific research to use in chlor-alkali facilities.

The total amount of mercury used in products in Canada was approximately 10 tonnes in 2003. This number includes domestic manufacturing and product imports. The mercury distribution in products was as follows:

Figure 1: 2003 Mercury Uses in Products

Figure 1: 2003 Mercury Uses in Products

The use of mercury has declined significantly over the past two decades and it is expected that the amount of mercury used in current product applications will continue to decline from 2006 onwards. The current technical requirement for certain products, such as lamps and batteries, indicate that complete elimination of mercury from these products is not expected over the next decade. In the absence of further risk management measures and with the introduction of new products, the uses of mercury in products are expected to decline about 30% by 2013 through material substitution and technical improvements in certain products due to increased international concern over the hazards of mercury.

Between 1990 and 2003, Canadian anthropogenic atmospheric mercury emissions dropped from approximately 32 to approximately 7 tonnes primarily as a result of technology changes in the base metal smelting industry. In 2003 the largest sources of atmospheric emissions of mercury were electricity generation, base metal smelting and waste incineration (see figure 2). Of the domestic emissions estimated for 2003, about one quarter is thought to be largely attributable to mercury-containing products (incineration and landfill, iron and steel and crematoria sections in Figure 2). The domestic emissions inventory does not include emissions from some diffuse sources like product breakage.

Figure 2: 2003 Canadian Mercury Emissions

Figure 2: 2003 Canadian Mercury Emissions

* The "Misc Sources" category includes emissions from residential wood and fuel combustion, commercial fuel combustion and industries such as pulp and paper, chemicals and rock quarrying among others.

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