Risk management strategy for products containing mercury: chapter 5

5.1 Products and Alternatives

Table 1 below provides an overview of mercury-containing products considered in the development of the RMS.

Table 1: Mercury-Containing Products
Product Category Product Type
Dental Amalgam Conventional Amalgam
Thermostats Thermostats (not digital)
Switches/ Relays Float Switch, Tilt Switch, Temperature Switch, Displacement/plunger relay, Wetted reed relay, Flame Sensor
Lamps Mercury Fluorescent lamps, High Intensity Discharge, Neon Signs
Batteries Button Batteries (manganese alkaline, silver oxide, zinc air and mercuric oxide), Other Batteries
Measuring Devices Sphygmomanometers, Manometers, Barometers, Psychormeters/ Hygrometers, Hydrometers, Pyrometers
Thermometers Mercury Thermometers
Tire Balancing Products Mercury Tire Balancing Product

Most mercury-containing products subject to this RMS have mercury-free or reduced-mercury alternatives. These alternatives can vary in relative cost and performance in comparison to their mercury-containing counterparts. Currently, the only products for which alternatives exist but are not available in Canada are button cell batteries.

Many mercury-containing products are instruments and gauges that are in turn used as inputs in more complex products as shown in Table 2 below.

Table 2: Some Uses of Mercury-Containing Products as Component Inputs
Products with Mercury Inputs Mercury-Containing Input
Automobiles HID Lamps
Fluorescent Lamps
Bilge Pumps Mercury Float Switches
LCD Screens and other Electronics Fluorescent Lamps
Medical Devices Mercuric Oxide Batteries
UV Air and Water Treatment Systems HID Lamps
Various items (smoke detectors, watches, toothbrushes, hearing aids, calculators, etc.) Button Cell Batteries

In addressing mercury-containing products for which mercury-free alternatives do not exist, this RMS aims to establish mercury content standards for domestically produced and imported products. In the past certain domestic manufacturers of products have acted voluntarily, or committed to voluntary standards, to limit the use of mercury. However, imports of the same products have not necessarily adopted the same limits. Continued inequity in industry standards can lead to differences in product safety in terms of environmental and human exposure.

5.2 Existing Legislation, Regulations and Guidelines for Mercury


Environment Canada and other federal departments have responded to the need for mercury management by developing diverse policies and program initiatives. Mercury is identified in Schedule 1 of CEPA 1999 which is the List of Toxic Substances. Currently mercury is addressed in regulations under CEPA 1999 targeting atmospheric releases from chlor-alkali facilities and the import/export of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material. In addition, a Proposed Pollution Prevention Planning Notice to address mercury releases from mercury switches in end-of-life vehicles processed by steel mills was published in Canada Gazette, Part I, on December 9th, 2006.

The use of certain mercury-containing products is also regulated at the federal level by the Hazardous Products Act (HPA) and the Pest Control Products Act (PCPA). The HPA addresses the use of mercury in coating materials for products used by children such as toys and learning material. Pesticides containing mercury are regulated under the PCPA. The sale of mercurial fungicides was discontinued under the authority of this Act in 1995. Both the HPA and PCPA are governed by Health Canada.13


Provinces, territories and municipalities have authority to produce legislation, regulations and guidelines for mercury in liquid effluent, drinking water, industrial emission sources and hazardous waste.

Canada-wide Standards (CWS) for mercury have been developed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), which consists of federal, provincial, and territorial Environment Ministers. These standards set nationally unified environmental objectives and allow participating jurisdictions to implement complementary plans in a way that suits their individual circumstances.

There are CWSs for mercury in lamps and dental amalgam waste, and for emissions from base metal smelters, incinerators and coal-fired electric power generation. Domestic lamp producers and the Canadian Dental Association committed to voluntary implementation for the CWSs for lamps and amalgam waste respectively.14


Canada continues to play a leadership role in the development and implementation of international mercury management initiatives including the Aarhus (Heavy Metals) Protocol under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, the Arctic Council, the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, the North American Regional Action Plan on Mercury and various national and bilateral monitoring programs.15

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) - Mercury Programme

UNEP in cooperation with members of the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals formed a Global Mercury Assessment Working Group which produced an assessment report on the global impacts of mercury. Considering the key findings of the report the UNEP Governing Council concluded that the evidence of adverse global impact due to mercury releases was sufficient to warrant further action in order to reduce risks to human health and the environment. The Governing Council also stated that prompt action should be taken at all levels of government to identify populations at risk and reduce anthropogenic releases.16

United States

In addition to existing activities for the reduction of mercury in processes and products such as the Battery Act which limits mercury use in batteries, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a Roadmap for Mercury in July 2006. The Roadmap was established with the goal of reducing risks associated with mercury. As part of its strategy the EPA will promote the reduction of mercury in products and encourage development of alternatives.17 In addition, many of the New England States are introducing regulatory measure to manage mercury in products.


A number of European Union (EU) Directives are currently in place which prohibit or limit the use of mercury in certain products such as electronics, batteries, pesticides and end-of-life vehicles. In January 2005, the European Commission (EC) adopted a mercury strategy with a number of objectives to address mercury in products and in October 2006, the EC proposed legislation to ban all EU exports of mercury by 2011. In recent years, certain Nordic countries have prohibited, phased-out or placed content limits on mercury-containing products

5.3 Cost of Mercury

The general trend over the past 40 years has been a decrease in price of mercury and its demand. The cost of mercury relative to overall production cost, for most products, is small. There is little economic benefit in redesigning products to take advantage of low mercury prices. The international regulatory climate is unfavorable to mercury use and is likely to outweigh economic advantages of lowered prices.

Although historical trends indicate that demand and price for mercury have been decreasing, there is an ongoing risk of new uses and novelty products entering the Canadian market. This risk is compounded by low prices and greater availability.

5.4 Mercury Reservoir

Reservoirs of mercury may accumulate at two stages in the life-cycle of mercury-containing products.

  1. Landfills - As products are disposed of in landfills the accumulation of mercury therein can represent a considerable reservoir. When these products break down, landfills can represent a significant pathway for mercury to the environment.

  2. Homes, Workplaces, Automobiles - The product life-cycle stage between use and disposal can vary in length depending on product type. Products such as thermometers and thermostats are often kept in homes for long periods of time. These products are considered to contain reservoir mercury.

It is difficult to estimate the size of the reservoir of mercury in Canadian homes, workplaces and automobiles. However, considering the widespread use of mercury in consumer products, their relative lifespan and potential for exposure to humans, reservoir mercury is an area of concern. This strategy aims to minimize the reservoir mercury pool in Canadian homes and landfills.

5.5 Transboundary Movement

Mercury has the ability to cross borders through pathways such as long-range atmospheric transportation and product import/export. Mercury emitted to the atmosphere can remain airborne for long periods of time and be deposited around the world. Relatively high concentrations of mercury found in the High Canadian Arctic, an area with no significant sources of mercury, may be linked to the long-range transport of pollutants on air currents from Asia and Europe. Canada exports recovered mercury to facilities in the United States for recycling. Exported mercury may be used in foreign manufacturing or other common international activities such as artisanal gold mining. This mercury may ultimately return to Canada through atmospheric transportation.

5.6 Ultimate Fate of Mercury

Mercury is a chemical element and cannot decompose or break down into harmless substances.18 When mercury is released to the environment through human activity it can cycle through the atmosphere for extended periods of time. A key to meeting the objectives of this strategy is to ensure that surplus mercury from reduced allowance in products and recovery from reservoirs is not released to the environment through other potential uses. The ultimate fate of mercury will be addressed in conjunction with, or as a part of, any potential instruments designed to meet the objectives of this strategy. Options for safe handling of surplus mercury may include long-term retirement or re-use in products for which mercury-free alternatives do not exist and closed-loop systems are in place to ensure minimal environmental releases.

13 Links to legislation available at Environment Canada Mercury and the Environment - Acts, Regulations and Guidelines.

14 Detailed information on regional actions on mercury and mercury containing products is available at the Environment Canada Mercury and the Environment webpage: Provincial & Territorial Legislation, Cities and Communities

15 Mercury and the Environment - International Initiatives

16 UNEP Global Mercury Assessment Report (PDF document, 5.5MB)

17 US EPA Roadmap for Mercury

18 UNEP Global Mercury Assessment Report (PDF document, 5.5MB)

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: