www.garthlenz.com Canada has acheived significant reductions in
its mercury emissions in the last 40 years. However, while Ontario
has now moved to the
final stages of phasing out its coal-burning plants,
eliminating mercury emissions from those plants, Alberta's tar
sands are reportedly "wafting" mercury in an area that extends
to about 19,000 square kilometres.
A report prepared by federal scientists at Environment Canada
(the same scientists the Harper government has attempted to
silence) found that mercury is "the number one
concern" when it comes to the metal toxins generated by tar
sands operations. The report also documents the first observation
of methyl mercury in snow; this is significant because methyl
mercury is bioavailable, and accumulates inside the organisms that
We recently reported that
Canada had signed a global treaty to reduce mercury emissions
called the Minamata Convention. If Canada follows through on
ratifying the treaty, will this help curb mercury emissions from
the tar sands?
Will the Minamata Convention control mercury releases from the
The tar sands are not specifically dealt with under the
Convention, so they would fall under Article 9, which addresses
releases from point sources of mercury. The Convention does not set
emissions reductions targets for these point sources. Rather, it
requires that the parties take measures to control and, where
feasible, reduce releases of mercury and mercury compounds.
The measures must include one or more of the following, as
(a) Release limit values to control and, where feasible, reduce
releases from relevant sources;
(b) The use of best available techniques and best environmental
practices to control releases from relevant sources;
(c) A multi-pollutant control strategy that would deliver
co-benefits for control of mercury releases;
(d) Alternative measures to reduce releases from relevant
The Parties are also required to establish an inventory of
releases from relevant sources.
These provisions leave a lot of discretion to the parties as to
what actions they will take.
The Minamata Convention also contains a voluntary provision,
encouraging parties to take steps to identify and protect
populations at risk of exposure to mercury (Article 16).
Other localized impacts of the tar sands
We most often think of the tar sands as a source of greenhouse
gas emissions, but it is also important to remember their
significant local impacts, in addition to mercury deposition,
Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change,
arguably in part to protect the tar sands from greenhouse gas
emissions reduction targets. We hope that it sticks with the
Minamata Convention, and implements both the mandatory and
voluntary measures set out in the Convention, to protect the health
of both the people and the ecosystems downwind of the tar sands
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
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