Canada's mining regulations may be lagging behind the global rush to find lithium deposits, the metal that's inside millions of rechargeable batteries used in cellphones and laptops.
A new report for Environment Canada says existing regulations were written before lithium became such a hot commodity, and may need to be revisited.
Canada has little historical experience of lithium extraction, and existing environmental regulations are not well-tailored to the burgeoning industry.
"The Metal Mining Effluent Regulations do not specifically regulate all of the individual substances of concern that might be released from the mining or processing of rare earth elements and lithium," says the report.
The regulations "were not specifically designed to manage the environmental aspects of these mining processes."
The March 2012 report, commissioned by Environment Canada, was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
Canada has just one functioning lithium operation, the underground Tanco Mine at Bernic Lake, Man., that produces a lithium-containing ore known as spodumene, along with other minerals. But soaring world demand for lithium, largely for use in the lithium-ion batteries that power a constellation of electronic devices and some vehicles, has sent more prospectors into the field. Canada Lithium Corp. has been rejuvenating an old lithium mine 60 kilometres north of Val d'Or, Que. Production is slated to begin later this year, with on-site refining of the spodumene ore into lithium carbonate early in 2013.
The $18,000 study by a consultant notes Canada's federal regulations do not specifically refer to lithium-mining operations. A spokesman for Environment Canada says there currently are no plans to change any environmental safeguards. There's a worldwide hunt for lithium sources as experts predict the market for rechargeable batteries is set to ramp up over the next decade.