Releases of Harmful Substances to the Environment

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Toxics substances released to the environment are known to have harmful effects on human health, wildlife and biological diversity. For instance, toxic metals can be inhaled or deposited onto soil and into water, where they can enter the food chain and accumulate in the body tissues of living organisms. Some of these substances can also be transported over great distances through the air.

The Releases of Harmful Substances to the Environment indicators track the releases of three toxic substances: mercury (Hg), lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd) and their compounds, to air and water. These substances are listed as toxicFootnote [1] under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), and therefore their release to the environment is closely monitored. The latest available data (up to 2013) from the Air Pollutant Emissions Inventory (APEI) and reported facility releases from the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) are used to calculate these indicators.

Releases to air

In 2013, Hg, Pb and Cd emissions to air have been reduced to about 10% of their 1990 levels (emissions reductions of 88%, 90% and 90% respectively). These reductions are mainly due to reduced emissions from industrial sources.

Mercury, lead and cadmium emissions to air, Canada, 1990 to 2013

Line graph

Long description

The indexed line chart shows the annual changes in emissions to air from 1990 to 2013, as a percentage of 1990 emissions, for three pollutants in Canada: mercury, lead and cadmium.

Data for this chart
Mercury, lead and cadmium emissions to air, Canada, 1990 to 2013
YearMercury
(change in annual emissions to air as a percentage of 1990 levels)
Lead
(change in annual emissions to air as a percentage of 1990 levels)
Cadmium
(change in annual emissions to air as a percentage of 1990 levels)
1990000
1991-1-4-10
199200-7
1993-4361
1994-506-10
1995-59-38-68
1996-57-32-66
1997-65-42-48
1998-70-47-48
1999-71-55-55
2000-73-54-59
2001-74-59-25
2002-75-62-57
2003-76-69-66
2004-76-74-64
2005-77-79-62
2006-76-76-55
2007-74-76-69
2008-77-78-75
2009-80-80-77
2010-83-83-82
2011-88-87-91
2012-89-88-89
2013-88-90-90

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 797 B)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator only reports releases from human-related sources.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2015) Air Pollutant Emission Inventory.

Releases to water

Releases of Hg, Pb and Cd to water decreased by 45%, 50% and 44% respectively between 2003 and 2013. These reductions are mainly due to reduced releases from wastewater treatmentFootnote [2] plants and from some industrial sources.

Releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water, Canada, 2003 to 2013

Line graph

Long description

The indexed line chart shows the annual changes in releases from 2003 to 2013, as a percentage of 2003 releases, for three pollutants in water in Canada: mercury, lead and cadmium.

Data for this chart
Releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water, Canada, 2003 to 2013
YearMercury
(change in annual releases to water as a percentage of 2003 levels)
Lead
(change in annual releases to water as a percentage of 2003 levels)
Cadmium
(change in annual releases to water as a percentage of 2003 levels)
2003000
2004-11-14-6
200540-13-31
2006-11-21-24
2007-33-41-24
2008-44-14-49
2009-10-32-35
2010-32-22-45
2011-7-30-43
2012-54-42-45
2013-45-50-44

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 928 B)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator only reports releases from human-related sources. This chart accounts only for the releases to water reported in the NPRI based on the NPRI reporting criteria for releases of Hg, Pb and Cd and their compounds. These amounts should not be interpreted as comprehensive totals of releases to water of these pollutants in Canada.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2014) National Pollutant Release Inventory – Reviewed 2013 NPRI Facility Reported Data.

Details on releases of harmful substances to the environment by substance

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This indicator is used to measure progress toward Target 4.8: Chemicals Management – Reduce risks to Canadians and impacts on the environment and human health posed by releases of harmful substances of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy 2013–2016.

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