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Canada to ban mercury products, CFL’s get a pass

Canada’s federal government has announced it is to ban many products that contain mercury, including thermometers.

This is the same federal government that banned the incandescent light bulb in favor of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL’s).

One of the few products to escape the new mercury ban is CFL light bulbs. To ban mercury in most products while legislating every home in Canada must use mercury-laden CFL’s is the kind of logic only a government could love.

The reason for the planned ban is noble enough:

“These proposed regulations would eliminate about 4.5 tonnes of mercury in products currently entering the Canadian marketplace each year,” Environment Minister Peter Kent said in a statement released on Monday.

The question is, how much mercury will trashed CFL’s contribute to Canada’s environment going forward?  Although the curly critters are supposed to be ‘properly disposed of’, it’s not easy to get rid of a dead lamp. Most people will do what they’ve always done when a bulb is fried -  change it and toss the old one into the garbage without a second thought. And therein is the problem with the government’s quixotic position on mercury in Canada.

Either mercury is a serious environmental problem, or it’s not.  Neither hippies nor government can have it both ways.  If the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Environment Minister Peter Kent all think it so dangerous, ban all household products that contain it without exception.

David Suzuki lent his face to the campaign to adopt CFL’s, so naturally he is equivocating about the risk:

…we have to keep things in perspective. The amount of mercury in a CFL is tiny — many times less than is found in a watch battery or dental filling. Coal-fired power plants are the single largest sources of mercury in our environment today, because coal contains mercury

Straw man arguments aside, Suzuki is correct – the amount of mercury in a CFL is tiny, approximately 4mg per lamp (pdf).  The problem comes from how many millions of the things we’ll send to landfills in the future.  We’ll literally be creating an environmental time bomb, in the name of green.

Canada’s government needs to repeal the ban on incandescent light bulbs if they’re serious about mercury and its danger to public health.  They must realize their current position is untenable but prefer to peddle hypocrisy than admit a mistake in what may be an election year.  They should rest easy – kicking the curly bomblets to the curb would win them more votes that they’d lose.

Governments can rarely be counted on to do the right thing for the right reasons, but if it’s votes they’re after – let them know how you feel about banning mercury while keeping the CFL.  You can find your MP here, give them a call or send an email.

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