Sulphur oxide emissions

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Emissions of sulphur oxides (SOX) in the atmosphere can have adverse effects on human health and the environment. The SOX emissions released by human activities consist mostly of sulphur dioxides (SO2). Sulphur dioxide can affect respiratory systems of humans and animals and cause damage to vegetation, buildings and materials. It is also a precursor to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and acid rain.

Key results

  • Between 1990 and 2015, SOX emissions decreased by 66% to 1054 kilotonnes (kt) in 2015.
  • In 2015, the largest proportion of SOX emissions came from ore and mineral industries. The source represented 46% of total emissions.

Total sulphur oxide emissions by source, Canada, 1990 to 2015

Stacked column chart showing sulphur oxide emissions by source. Long description below.

Long description

The stacked column chart shows total sulphur oxide emissions in Canada by source (ore and mineral industries, electric utilities, oil and gas industry, and other sources) for the years 1990 to 2015. The emissions are reported in kilotonnes.

Data for this chart
Total sulphur oxide emissions by source, Canada, 1990 to 2015
YearOre and mineral industries (emissions in kilotonnes)Electric utilities (emissions in kilotonnes)Oil and gas industry (emissions in kilotonnes)Other sources (emissions in kilotonnes)Total national emissions (emissions in kilotonnes)
19901484.0618.5534.3429.63066.5
19911335.5592.2535.9382.12845.7
19921170.2610.8575.7370.72727.3
19931113.1547.3605.5380.52646.3
1994892.4559.9599.0383.82435.1
19951106.5532.8594.4329.72563.5
19961089.6542.3592.4348.52572.8
19971032.5591.5549.1357.02530.1
19981019.7603.7515.3350.72489.4
1999925.5601.3512.7357.32396.7
2000915.9619.2508.2359.42402.8
2001912.8624.0493.5355.12385.4
2002906.5616.4459.2351.22333.4
2003812.5635.0480.0359.12286.6
2004867.4559.0473.2359.92259.5
2005859.0525.9469.6336.12190.6
2006830.9459.0431.7269.81991.3
2007781.5491.9403.6257.61934.6
2008717.7427.5378.0224.81748.0
2009524.9384.1368.1201.31478.3
2010503.7334.0337.1196.51371.4
2011469.0293.3327.5197.81287.6
2012478.2284.3318.4190.81271.7
2013492.1278.2301.3186.31257.9
2014487.2269.2263.6188.41208.4
2015482.9251.6234.385.61054.4

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator reports air pollutant emissions from human activities only. The category "other sources" includes emissions from transportation (road, rail, air and marine), off-road vehicles and mobile equipment, home firewood burning, incineration and waste, agriculture (livestock, crop production and fertilizer), dust and fires, paints and solvents, building heating and energy generation, manufacturing, and other miscellaneous sources. Consult Table 1 in the Data Sources and Methods for a complete list of the air pollutant emissions sources included under each category.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2017) Air Pollutant Emission Inventory.

More information

In 2015, the non-ferrous smelting and refining industry accounted for 76% (365 kt) of SOX emissions from the ore and mineral industries, the main contributor to total national emissions. Emissions from electric utilities and the oil and gas industry emitted the next largest proportions of total national emissions, representing 24% (252 kt) and 22% (234 kt).

The largest reduction in emissions between 1990 and 2015 was from ore and mineral industries (the largest driver of the reduction was from the non-ferrous smelting and refining industry), with an emissions reduction of 1001 kt.

This significant decrease in SOX emissions from 1990 to 2015 is due in large part to government actions to fight acid rain and related federal-provincial and United States agreementsFootnote [1],Footnote [2] on capping SOX emissions by 1994. Further reductions were also realized through:

  • technological upgrades, new air pollution controls for non-ferrous metal smelters and the closure of three major smelters in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec
  • lower emissions from fossil-fuel-fired (for example, coal-fired) power-generating utilities as a result of better removal technologies and plant closures (for example, the phase-out of coal electricity generation in Ontario)
  • improved emission controls for the petroleum refining sector
  • implementation of regulations on low-sulphur fuelsFootnote [3]

Sulphur oxide emissions by province and territory

Key results

  • In 2015, Ontario and Alberta accounted for about 50% (508 kt) of national SOX emissions.
  • Between 1990 and 2015, the largest reduction was observed in Ontario. Emissions in the province decreased by 78% (878 kt).

Sulphur oxide emissions by province and territory, Canada, 1990 and 2015

Column chart showing sulphur oxide emissions by province and territory. Long description below.

Long description

The column chart shows 1990 and 2015 sulphur oxide emissions in Canada by province and territory. The emissions are reported in kilotonnes.

Data for this chart
Sulphur oxide emissions by province and territory, Canada, 1990 and 2015
Province or territory1990 (emissions in kilotonnes)2015 (emissions in kilotonnes)
Newfoundland and Labrador77.020.5
Prince Edward Island3.70.2
Nova Scotia213.563.8
New Brunswick109.122.1
Quebec261.2113.9
Ontario1132.7254.4
Manitoba509.2153.8
Saskatchewan96.7108.3
Alberta515.9253.3
British Columbia128.260.5
Yukon0.70.1
Northwest Territories and Nunavut18.53.5

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 810 B)

How this indicator was calculated 

Note: The indicator reports air pollutant emissions from human activities only.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2017) Air Pollutant Emission Inventory.

More information

Ontario had the highest SOX emissions level in 2015, representing 24% (254 kt) of total national emissions. Emissions in the province mainly came from ore and mineral industries, accounting for 83% of the emissions. The sharp reduction in SOX emissions in Ontario between 1990 and 2015 was mainly due to emission reductions from ore and mineral industries (notably the non-ferrous mining and smelting industry) and electric utilities.

Alberta had the second-highest SOX emissions in 2015, also contributing 24% (253 kt) of national emissions. The oil and gas industry and electric utilities were the largest contributor to SOX emissions in that year. Manitoba ranked third, with 15% (154 kt) of national emissions; ore and mineral industries was the most important source of emissions in that province.

Sulphur oxide emissions from facilities

Environment and Climate Change Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory provides detailed information on air pollutant emissions from industrial and commercial facilities. The Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) program provides access to this information through an online interactive map.

With the CESI interactive map, you can zoom in to local areas and obtain details on SOX emissions specific to reporting facilities.

Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2016) National Pollutant Release Inventory Data search – facility reported data.

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