- 1.1 Purpose of the Report
- 1.2 Context
- 1.3 National Analysis of Trends in Emergencies System (NATES) Database
- 1.4 Data Standardization
- 1.5 Harmonization of Spill-Reporting Systems
- 1.6 Spill-Reporting Databases in Canada
- 1.7 National Environmental Emergencies System (NEES)
- 1.8 Spill-Data Analysis
- 1.9 Spill Data and Client Needs
The purpose of this report is to provide a summary review of reported spill incidents in Canada, including the identification of spill trends, covering the years 1984 to 1995. The data used in producing the report were gathered by Environment Canada, or provided by various regional or provincial agencies and other government departments.
The following eight key areas are examined:
- Spills in Canada and their distribution
- Spills by industry sector
- Causes, reasons and sources of spills in seven major sectors
- Federal spills
- Spills and environment affected
- Spills of MIACC list 1 substances
- Spills by material categories
- Major spills in Canada
Using simple statistical techniques, results of the analyses are summarized and presented in the report as tables, graphs and pie charts. The report provides information on causes and reasons for reported spills, and the number and sources of those spills. Users of this information will be able to look at trends and focus on specific problem areas. The results presented are meant to help Canadians in their efforts to reduce the frequency of spills and the severity of their environmental impact.
While the focus of the report is to identify spill trends, four selected case histories in which Environment Canada was involved are included (Section 3.2). The case histories provide insight into Environment Canada's role in a major spill event, a glimpse at how various agencies work together, and an understanding of how assessments of these events have led to improvements in the way emergencies are handled.
This report is a follow-up to an earlier publication which examined trends for the period 1974-1983 (Environment Canada, 1987).
Environment Canada derives its mandate for the Environmental Emergencies Program from a 1973 Cabinet Decision. This Decision assigned the responsibility for developing and maintaining a national spill reporting system and database to Environment Canada.
The Environmental Emergencies Branch of Environment Canada administers the national spill database NATES (National Analysis of Trends in Emergencies System). This database was established in 1973 as a part of the overall Environmental Emergencies Program. Its role is to record information received through voluntary reporting of pollution incidents involving hazardous substances.
The objective of the Environmental Emergencies Program is to prevent, or to reduce the frequency, severity and consequences of environmental emergencies which affect Canadians. During a major event, Environment Canada is available to advise clients and partners, and to ensure that the environment is protected. The Environmental Emergencies Program co-ordinates all related departmental expertise with respect to the handling and management of hazardous substances, weather information, wildlife protection, and the development and application of new environmental technologies.
The Environmental Emergencies Program focuses on preventing releases of hazardous substances to the environment, and contributes to the achievement of the “Clean Air” and “Clean Water” objectives of the federal government's agenda. The Program also meets the requirements of the Emergency Preparedness Act (1995) under which each federal minister is responsible for developing and maintaining civil-emergency plans related to the departmental mandate. In the case of Environment Canada, the Minister is responsible for maintaining plans covering identification, assessment and mitigation of environmental hazards and their associated risks.
There are an estimated 20 000 spills reported in Canada each year. Although the majority of these spills are minor and have marginal impact on the environment, there are some releases which have the potential to input a greater quantity of a hazardous substance to the environment than combined chronic releases of the substance over many years. In some cases -- depending upon the substances released and the location, season or sensitivity of the area -- even relatively small spills can have a severe impact on the environment.
Factors which increase the risk of accidental releases include changes in manufacturing patterns, aging distribution systems (pipeline, infrastructure, etc.), and the types of materials transported. Increased resource development and traffic volumes also add to the risk.
Environmental protection is a multi-jurisdictional responsibility shared by all levels of government, industry and individual Canadians. Working together in partnership is required to ensure that the environment is adequately protected.
Recognizing this interdependency, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) recently signed a Canada-wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization and three sub-agreements pursuant to this Accord. In addition, the Council directed officials to develop further sub-agreements, one of which will address the area of environmental emergencies. These federal-provincial joint initiatives are intended to enhance environmental protection by preventing overlapping activities, and by identifying and remedying gaps and weaknesses in the Canadian emergencies-management system.
The NATES database was established in 1973 by Environment Canada to record information from voluntary reporting of pollution incidents involving hazardous substances.
The database contains spill information entered under a number of data fields, including location, material spilled, quantity, cause, source, and sector.
NATES captures the most significant of the spill events reported each year. For the sake of clarity, the name 'NATES' is used to encompass all of the data sources for the analyses presented in this report. However, NATES is only one of the data sets used; data were also obtained through the Department's co-operative agreements with the provincial and territorial reporting agencies and other government departments. The other data sources are identified in the Acknowledgements prefacing this report.
The following subsections briefly describe the data collection and compilation procedures and arrangements employed to create the data set used for analysis.
Environment Canada records spill data 24 hours a day, seven days a week through hotlines operating at the National Environmental Emergencies Centre (NEEC) and the regional and district Environmental Emergencies offices. Callers may contact Environment Canada to report leaks, spills, releases, explosions or fires that they believe may impact the environment. The Environment Canada spill-reporting telephone numbers are listed on the inside front cover of this report.
The initial spill information is captured by Environment Canada staff on a standard pollution incident report (PIR) form. The form is designed to record answers to the 'five Ws' of an incident: who, what, when, where and why.
The majority of spill reports received by the NEEC are forwarded from regional Environmental Emergencies offices, and are based on information about the spill event that has been called in by industry, municipal, provincial and federal government offices.
Once an incident is over, regional staff re-examine the incident and prepare a detailed report identifying variables such as cause, reason, source and sector. This is done by completing a coding form. The coding form captures some of the basic information in the initial pollution report and also includes the more detailed information not usually available until the incident is over.
The information in the coding forms becomes part of the database which is used to analyze trends in emergencies. Some regional offices maintain databases of their own and occasionally produce regional spill-trends reports, which are listed in the reference section.
In Canada, the lead response agency for most spills is the environmental authority in the province or territory, all of whom have legislated reporting requirements. As a result, most incidents are reported directly to the provincial or territorial governments rather than to Environment Canada. Spill data for these incidents are obtained by Environment Canada through informal information-exchange agreements. Some provinces and territories have published spill-trends reports, which are listed in the reference section of this report.
Environment Canada has agreements with other government departments, similar to those the Department has with the provincial and territorial governments. In coastal provinces, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes Region, a large majority of marine spills are initially reported to the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG). Significant incidents with an environmental impact are then communicated to the appropriate Environment Canada regional office. The aim of these agreements is to keep Environment Canada informed of incidents and to clarify Environment Canada's role in providing scientific support to lead agencies. Some of the data collected are subsequently recorded in NATES.
Data used in this report were collected from various sources and some standardization was required in order to compile the data for analysis. There are four aspects of the data which required standardization:
- formatting changes to make the data accessible;
- changes of units (e.g. volume to mass);
- standardization of substance names (e.g. sulfuric vs. sulphuric acid, muriatic vs. hydrochloric acid); and,
- re-categorization (e.g. grouping categories or chemicals and sectors or, conversely, breaking a large category into sub-categories when enough details were provided).
The standardized database, which compiles data from all listed sources is referred to as 'NATES' throughout the report.
Although every effort was made to capture all available spill data for the 1984-1995 period, there are data missing for some locations and periods. For example, there are limited spill data from the Province of Quebec, and a very complete data set for the Province of Ontario. Although this may not significantly affect the overall trend analysis results on a national basis, it does show biased trend results for Quebec when compared with other provinces. There are also periodic gaps in the data provided by some provinces.
Each province and territory has somewhat different spill-reporting requirements and collects data in a slightly different way. The differences in the federal, provincial and territorial databases requiring standardization are outlined in Section 1.4.
The incompatibility of the various sets of data underscores the importance of working with partners to harmonize federal-provincial spill reporting systems on both regional and national levels. Progress has been made towards establishing harmonized federal-provincial spill-reporting systems in some regions of the country. Environment Canada has recently completed a study on Spill Notification Systems in Canada (Environment Canada, 1997).
In Canada, there are a number of databases which capture information on incidents involving spills and leaks of hazardous substances. A brief description of some of the databases follows.
In addition to NATES, Environment Canada also maintains a national database called the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). It is designed to collect and make available to the public, on a yearly basis, comprehensive national data on releases to air, water and land, transfers in waste, and ongoing emissions of specified substances. Under the authority of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, owners or operators of facilities that manufacture, process or otherwise use one or more of the 176 specified substances under prescribed conditions are required to report to the NPRI.The NPRI reports for the years 1994 and 1995 can be found on the Environment Canada web site (http://www.ec.gc.ca/pdb/npri/).
One of the main differences between NATES and NPRI is that reporting to NATES is voluntary, while reporting to the NPRI is mandatory. Also, NPRI covers all emissions including spills, whereas NATES covers only spills. In addition, the thresholds and reporting criteria exempt many fixed facilities from reporting to NPRI, whereas all spills may be reported to NATES.
Transport Canada maintains the Dangerous Goods Accident Information System (DGAIS). All transportation incidents resulting in spills must be reported to the Transport Dangerous Goods Directorate by the person responsible for the dangerous goods consignment at the time of the incident. Since July 1985, dangerous goods incident information has been submitted under the reporting requirements of Section IX of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations.
Generally, a provincial or territorial government is the lead agency for most spills. All provinces and territories have legislative reporting requirements. A large portion of the data used to produce this report has been obtained from provincial and territorial governments. The Environmental Emergencies Branch of Environment Canada has compiled a list of all federal, provincial and territorial legislation which describe spill reporting provisions (Environment Canada, 1992).
Maintaining an up-to-date and user-friendly national database for recording spill occurrences is an important component of the broader emergencies-management system. Recognizing the incompatibilities among the various Environment Canada regional spill databases, the Environmental Emergencies Program began developing the National Environmental Emergencies System (NEES) in the fall of 1993.
NEES has been developed with the varying needs of the regional offices in mind. Input from user-group meetings and study of the evolution of other systems have contributed to the system's development. The NEES now incorporates historical data tables from the regional systems, as well as the NATES database and data from various contributing agencies.
The NEES is capable of storing data from pollution incident reports as well as historical data for trends analysis. Taking advantage of the technology of the application, most of the trends requirements are automatically transferred from the initial incident report, thus reducing the time and effort required to obtain these data for trends analysis. The system has taken into consideration quality control and consistency in reporting, and has been developed with quality-control checks where problem areas were noted in past systems.
The NATES spill data set used for the purpose of this study contains over 94 000 spill reports for the period 1984-1995. There are over 1 000 substances listed in the database.
In reviewing the results presented in this report, it should be kept in mind that there are some limitations to the completeness and accuracy of the data, which may have some bearing on the interpretation of the results.
An inherent limitation of most spill information collected in Canada is that the end result generally does not look back to the point of origin. For example, spill hotlines capture the initial spill report information and disseminate it as appropriate. However, once the initial information has been circulated, follow-up information and activities are generally not filtered back up to the initial contact point.
Spill volume is an example of first report information that can change over the course of an incident, but is not usually updated on the initial spill report. The volume of a spill is usually underestimated at the beginning of an incident. Also, if a mixture of substances are spilled, it is not usually known what concentration of each substance is present in the actual spill. For these reasons, the volumes recorded may be approximations. In spite of some of the inaccuracies, this information is still quite useful in providing an overview of relative increases and decreases over the years.
Since reporting spill incidents to NATES is not mandatory, the data do not represent a comprehensive picture of all spills reported in Canada. The data do, however, provide a good sampling of information with which to perform analyses and obtain trends. While the actual numbers presented may not be definitive, the resulting trends are useful in identifying areas where Canadians can be more proactive in reducing the number of spills of substances harmful to our environment.
An initiative was undertaken to identify existing clients and other potential users of spill data, so that the information and results provided in this report could be optimized for usefulness to both clients and our partners (including other government departments and provincial and territorial governments).
The following information was used to identify the potential clients for this report and to determine their needs:
- the clients who have requested spill data searches over the last several years;
- the clients who requested Summary of Spill Events in Canada, 1974-1983; and
- additional clients who may not have been covered by the above items.
Figure 1.1 shows recent requests for NATES data by sector. The client list includes: Environment Canada, other government departments, industry and business, consultants, and educational institutions.
Input was solicited from both existing and potential clients; their advice and guidance has been extremely helpful in shaping this report.
- Date Modified: