CCME has determined that mercury levels in fish and wildlife across Canada warrant efforts to reduce mercury emissions in order to protect not only fish and wildlife, but also human health. CCME is committed to reducing mercury releases to the environment. Since 1998, CCME has set Canada-wide Standards (CWSs) for mercury emissions from base-metal smelters and from waste incinerators and mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants as well as mercury-containing lamps and dental amalgam waste - on which CCME periodically reports.
Mercury is a toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative substance. It converts in water to the highly toxic form, methylmercury, which accumulates in fish and other species, damaging the central nervous system and causing reproductive failure among loons and river otters. Human exposure to mercury – primarily by eating contaminated fish – may cause neurological and developmental damage. Low exposure to mercury may cause problems, such as learning disabilities in children. Women of childbearing age, pregnant women, children, and populations who depend on fish as a traditional food source are most at risk.
Mercury releases to the environment, via emissions, lamps and dental amalgam are decreasing. All reporting hazardous waste incinerators were in compliance with the standard. The average mercury content in all mercury-containing lamps was reduced by about 75% from the 1990 baseline and exceeds the 2005 CWS target of 70% reduction.
In 2007, based on a survey of dentists across Canada, it was estimated that 70% were in compliance with the CWS, which is short of the 95% target set by ministers. Environment Canada is developing risk management instruments for a variety of mercury-containing products. Included in this approach is a proposal for Pollution Prevention Planning for dental amalgam waste, expected to come into effect by 2010, which will require dentists who have not established best management practices as outlined in the CWS to prepare a pollution prevention plan.