Releases of Harmful Substances to the Environment

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Toxic substances released to the environment can harm 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 tissues of living organisms. Some of these substances can also travel great distances by air.

The Releases of Harmful Substances to the Environment indicators track releases of 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), so their release to the environment is closely monitored. The latest available data 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 2014, Hg, Pb and Cd emissions to air have been reduced to about 10% of their 1990 levels (emissions reductions of 89%, 89% and 92% respectively). These reductions are mainly due to reduced emissions from industrial sources.

Mercury, lead and cadmium emissions to air, Canada, 1990 to 2014

Indexed Line Chart - see long description below

Long description

The indexed line chart shows the annual changes in emissions to air from 1990 to 2014, as a percentage of 1990 emissions, for three pollutants in Canada: mercury, lead and cadmium. Between 1990 and 2014, emissions were reduced by 89% for mercury, 89% for lead and 92% for cadmium.

Data for this chart
Mercury, lead and cadmium emissions to air, Canada, 1990 to 2014
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
19920-1-7
1993-43-35-77
1994-49-34-75
1995-59-29-68
1996-60-22-59
1997-68-39-48
1998-70-47-48
1999-71-54-55
2000-73-56-58
2001-74-59-24
2002-75-63-57
2003-76-69-66
2004-76-74-63
2005-77-78-61
2006-76-76-55
2007-74-76-68
2008-77-78-75
2009-80-80-77
2010-84-83-82
2011-88-87-90
2012-89-88-89
2013-88-90-90
2014-89-89-92

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.08 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator only reports releases from human-related sources.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2016) Air Pollutant Emission Inventory.

Releases to water

In 2014, an important spill accounted for increases in releases of Hg and Pb to water of 518% and 499% respectively and of 29% for Cd between 2003 and 2014. On August 4, 2014, a dam securing a tailings pond from the Mount Polley mine in central British Columbia breached, spilling mining waste into Polley Lake and surrounding waters.

In 2014, the Mount Polley mine reported releases of Pb, Cd and Hg to water for the first time. Releases to water from the Mount Polley mine in 2014 amounted to 134.1 tonnes (t) of Pb, 2.8 t of Cd and 2.1 t of Hg.

Releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water, Canada, 2003 to 2014

Indexed Line Chart - see long description below

Long description

The indexed line chart shows the annual changes in releases to water from 2003 to 2014, as a percentage of 2003 releases, for three pollutants in Canada: mercury, lead and cadmium. The increases of 518% for mercury, 499% for lead and 29% for cadmium to water between 2003 and 2014 are explained by the Mount Polley incident of 2014.

Data for this chart
Releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water, Canada, 2003 to 2014
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
200541-13-31
2006-10-21-24
2007-33-41-24
2008-45-14-49
2009-10-32-35
2010-32-22-45
2011-6-29-43
2012-53-42-45
2013-44-47-44
201451849929

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.21 KB)

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 (2016) Overview of Reviewed Facility-Reported Data of the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) 2014.

 

Related information

 

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These indicators are used to measure progress towards 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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