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Reducing impacts of harmful substances in water

Target 3.12: Chemicals management – Reduce risks to Canadians and impacts on the environment posed by harmful substances as a result of decreased environmental concentrations and human exposure to such substances.

From 2007–2010, levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in fish and sediments were below the Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines in the majority of drainage regions in Canada.

Exceedances in fish have occurred; mainly for pentaBDEs in most drainage regions and for tetraBDE in one drainage region.

Exceedances in sediment have occurred for pentaBDE and decaBDE in 4 out of 10 sample drainage regions.

 

The amount of mercury, cadmium and lead released to water was lower in 2010 than in 2003.

Since 2006, Canada has worked closely with health and environmental groups, consumer groups and industry through the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) to reduce risks to Canadians and the environment by setting clear priorities for the assessment and management of hundreds of chemicals.

The CMP has made Canada a world leader in chemicals management. One key initiative resulted in the prohibition of the manufacture, use, sale, offer for sale and import of products containing harmful substances used in foams for firefighting and in some textiles. The CMP has also implemented requirements for pollution prevention for 4 substances that are used in industrial processes, and has added 22 substances to the Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist.

In October 2011, the government announced more than $506 million in funding over 5 years for the next phase of the CMP, which includes improving product safety, chemical research and completing assessments of 500 substances including those used in plastics. Integrated monitoring is another important aspect of the CMP that over time will yield important information on progress.

In addition, from 2005 to 2011, the government made significant progress in remediating contaminated sites during Phase I of the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan. From an original inventory of 6,200 sites and other sites identified in Phase I, remedial actions were taken on 1400 sites. Contaminated water and soil were treated and hazardous wastes destroyed.

In 2012, the governments of Canada and Alberta announced the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring, a scientifically rigorous, comprehensive, integrated and transparent environmental monitoring program for the oil sands region. It outlines the path forward to enhance the monitoring of water, air, land and biodiversity that will result in improved knowledge of the state of the region's environment and enhanced understanding of cumulative effects and environmental change. These methods and results will be made public to allow independent scientific assessments and evaluations. The announcement built on monitoring plans released in 2011.

In 1991, the Northern Contaminants Program was established to reduce contaminants in country foods harvested in the North. Since then, global management and monitoring has led to a 40% decrease on average of persistent organic pollutants in northern fish and wildlife. The decrease in these contaminants in fish and wildlife, together with dietary changes, has contributed to an approximately 60% decrease in contaminant exposure among northern populations.

For additional information on the implementation strategies that support this target, please consult the following websites: Environment Canada, Health Canada, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

Progress towards Target 3.12: Concentrations of selected substances (PFOS and PBDE) in water

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are a group of chemicals used as flame retardants that are considered dangerous for wildlife. PBDEs are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such that they build up in living organisms, remain in the environment for long periods after their release and are capable of long-range transport.

PBDEs are considered high-priority chemicals under the CMP. Currently, the use of PBDEs in Canada is declining because most commercial mixtures containing these chemicals have either been voluntarily phased out by manufacturers or are subject to restrictions in Canada. In addition, Canada is also engaged in two international agreements that restrict and ultimately target the elimination of the production, use, trade, release and storage of PBDEs.

Despite these efforts, long-range transport of PBDEs to Canada, potential presence in imported products, widespread use in the past and slow breakdown following release mean that PBDEs still remain in the Canadian environment.

Indicators have been developed to report on PBDEs. The PBDEs in Fish and Sediment indicators report on the occurrence of PBDE concentrations above or below Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines (FEQGs) in both fish tissue and sediment. FEQGs are numerical limits established under the CMP to protect aquatic life. Concentrations below the guidelines are not of concern, while concentrations above guidelines indicate that further evaluation may be required.

From 2007–2010, levels of PBDEs in fish and sediments were below the FEQGs in the majority of drainage regions in Canada. Exceedances in fish have occurred; mainly for pentaBDEs in most drainage regions and for tetraBDE in one drainage region. Exceedances in sediment have occurred for pentaBDE and decaBDE in 4 out of 10 sample drainage regions.

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PBDEs in fish

Between 2008 and 2010, the government conducted fish sampling in 11 drainage regions, and analysed PBDEs concentrations in fish tissue of 4 sub-groups for which guidelines have been set: triBDE, tetraBDE, pentaBDE and hexaBDE. The analysis found that concentrations of triBDE, tetraBDE and hexaBDE in most drainage regions were below the guidelines. However, levels of tetraBDE in the Great Lakes and pentaBDE in almost all the drainage regions exceeded the guidelines levels.

PBDEs in sediment

Between 2007 and 2010, the government conducted sediment sampling in 10 drainage regions, and analysed sediment concentrations for 6 subgroups of PBDEs that have guidelines. The analysis found that sediment samples from the Pacific coastal, the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence drainage regions had pentaBDE and decaBDE concentrations above FEQGs. Sediment from the Lower Saskatchewan–Nelson drainage region had only total pentaBDE above guideline levels. All other subgroups of PBDEs were below the guidelines for all regions where sampling occurred.

Overall, concentrations of PBDEs show evidence of a decline in environmental media such as fish and sediment. However, due to their persistent nature, susceptibility to long-range transport and presence in imported products, it will take some time to eliminate PBDEs from the Canadian environment.

Through comparison to the FEQGs for PBDEs, data suggest that concentrations of most forms in most regions of Canada present a low potential for adverse effects on the organisms examined in this monitoring program. These results provide an important piece of information to be used by the Government of Canada in evaluating its risk management strategy for PBDEs.

For the most up-to-date information on this indicator, please visit CESI.

Progress towards Target 3.12: Mercury, cadmium and lead released to water

Mercury, cadmium and lead are naturally occurring metals; however, they can also be released directly to water from human activities such as sewage treatment, production of pulp and paper, and processing of metals for products or industrial uses.

As shown in figures 3.12, 3.13, and 3.14, in Canada the amount of mercury, cadmium and lead released to water was lower in 2010 than in 2003. In 2010, the amount released was reduced from 2003 levels by 29% or 112 kg for mercury, by 22% or 5,453 kg for lead and by 46% or 2,275 kg for cadmium.

For the most up-to-date information on these indicator, please visit CESI (Mercury, Cadmium, Lead).

Figure 3.12: Mercury release to water, 2003 to 2010

Mercury release to water, 2003 to 2010

Long description

The line chart shows the amount of mercury released to water in Canada between 2003 and 2010. In 2010, 269 kilograms of mercury was released to water, a decrease of 22%, or 76 kilograms from 2009. Mercury releases in 2010 were 29% (or 112 kilograms) lower than in 2003. The chart also shows a spike in the amount of mercury released to water in 2005, which can be attributed to an unusually high amount reported to have been released by a single wastewater treatment plant.

 

Figure 3.13: Cadmium release to water, 2003 to 2010

Cadmium release to water, 2003 to 2010

Long description

The line chart shows the amount of cadmium released to water in Canada between 2003 and 2010. In 2010, 2,670 kilograms of cadmium was released to water, a decrease of 14% (or 543 kilograms) from the 2009 level. Cadmium releases in 2010 were 46% or 2,275 kilograms lower than in 2003.

Figure 3.14: Lead release to water, 2003 to 2010

Lead release to water, 2003 to 2010

Long description

The line chart shows the amount of lead released to water in Canada between 2003 and 2010. In 2010, the amount of lead released to water was 18,886 kilograms, an increase of 15% or 2,424 kilograms above the 2009 release level. The amount of lead released in 2010 was 22% or 5,453 kilograms lower than in 2003.

 

 


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