Releases of Lead to the Environment

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In 2014, national lead (Pb) emissions to air from human-related activities totalled 136 tonnes (t), which represents an increase of 5% (about 7 t) from the 2013 level, and is 89% (1153 t) lower than in 1990.   

In 2014, national Pb releases to water were 146 t of Pb, more than 10 times the total releases reported in 2013 and about 500% higher than the releases reported in 2003, the baseline year of the time series.

In central British Columbia, a dam securing a tailings pond from the Mount Polley mine breached  on August 4, 2014, spilling mining waste into Polley Lake and surrounding waters. That breach alone released 134 t of Pb to water, or 92% of the total reported for Canada in 2014.

Releases of lead to air and water, Canada, 1990 to 2014 (air) and 2003 to 2014 (water)

line chart - see long description below

Long description

The line chart shows the amount of lead emitted to air in Canada between 1990 and 2014 from human-related activities. An insert column chart shows the amount of lead released to water in Canada between 2003 and 2014. Lead emissions to air had a 89% decrease since 1990 while for water an increase of almost 500% was observed between 2003 and 2014. The increase in releases is explained by the 2014 Mount Polley mine incident in British Columbia.

Data for this chart
Releases of lead to air and water, Canada, 1990 to 2014 (air) and 2003 to 2014 (water)
YearLead
(annual national emissions to air in tonnes)
Lead
(annual national releases to water in tonnes)
19901289.1no data
19911240.5no data
19921282.3no data
1993840.4no data
1994854.9no data
1995921.4no data
19961008.9no data
1997785.7no data
1998684.5no data
1999590.4no data
2000570.7no data
2001526.1no data
2002470.9no data
2003395.624.3
2004330.120.8
2005278.321.3
2006311.019.1
2007306.514.3
2008282.821.0
2009257.716.5
2010219.018.9
2011166.017.2
2012156.214.0
2013129.512.9
2014136.4145.8

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator only reports Pb releases from human-related sources. The releases in water indicator includes the amount of elemental Pb in any compound, alloy or mixture reported in the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) based on the NPRI reporting criteria. As a result, the reported Pb releases to water represent only a portion of the releases of this toxic pollutant to water in Canada.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2016) Air Pollutant Emission Inventory. Environment and Climate Change Canada (2016) Overview of Reviewed Facility-Reported Data of the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) 2014.

Lead is a metal that occurs naturally in the earth's crust. Lead is emitted mainly as a result of industrial activities such as metal smelting and refining and various combustion processes. It is also released from natural processes such as rock and soil erosion. Lead can be deposited on terrestrial or water surfaces and subsequently builds up in soils or sediments. It can be released directly to water from human activities such as pulp and paper production, processing of metal, and from wastewater treatment.Footnote [1] Exposure to lead, even in small amounts, can be hazardous to both humans and wildlife. Lead is listed as toxicFootnote [2] under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999).

Lead emissions to air by source

In 2014, the highest proportion of Pb emissions to air in Canada came from non-ferrous smelting and refining, representing 63% (86 t) of national emissions. Transportation (road, rail, air and marine), mostly air transportation, accounted for the second-highest proportion of Pb emissions, with 20% (28 t) of national emissions. The largest reduction in emissions between the years 1990 and 2014 was from non-ferrous smelting and refining with an emission reduction of 801 t or 90%. In 2014, other industries (mainly mining) emitted 8% (12 t) of national Pb emissions, making them the third-largest source while having the second largest reduction in emissions between 1990 and 2014 (240 t).

Lead emissions to air by source, Canada, 1990 to 2014

stacked column chart - see long description below

Long description

The stacked column chart shows the amount of lead emitted to air in Canada by source for the years 1990 to 2014. The sources presented are, from bottom to top of each column, non-ferrous smelting and refining, transportation (road, rail, air, marine), other industries, iron and steel industry, and other sources. The non-ferrous smelting and refining industry emitted 63% of the total emissions for the year 2014. It is followed by transportation (road, rail, air, marine) with 20% and other industries with 8% of the total emissions. The largest reduction in emissions between the years 1990 and 2014 was from non-ferrous smelting and refining with an emission reduction of 801 tonnes.

Data for this chart
Lead emissions to air by source, Canada, 1990 to 2014
YearNon-ferrous smelting and refining
(tonnes)
Transportation (road, rail, air, marine)
(tonnes)
Other industries
(tonnes)
Iron and steel industry
(tonnes)
Other sources
(tonnes)
1990886.279.0252.253.917.8
1991847.560.1261.153.918.0
1992899.254.2256.553.918.5
1993476.154.0238.453.918.0
1994508.253.4220.853.918.5
1995630.759.6164.348.518.3
1996704.058.0173.353.919.8
1997593.754.771.546.819.0
1998527.456.435.445.519.8
1999464.751.847.57.618.7
2000464.552.131.63.519.0
2001397.751.260.78.87.7
2002371.350.532.68.58.0
2003285.645.637.018.78.7
2004230.841.733.516.67.5
2005185.648.232.15.76.7
2006224.443.228.95.98.7
2007216.344.929.26.69.6
2008193.643.529.26.010.6
2009181.141.424.34.56.5
2010140.837.427.46.37.2
201196.230.725.86.17.3
201288.437.516.56.67.2
201374.931.812.35.15.3
201485.527.512.26.15.2

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator only reports releases from human-related sources. The category Other sources includes fuel for electricity and heating, home firewood burning, waste, and incineration and miscellaneous. For more details on the sources, consult the Data Source and Methods.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2016) Air Pollutant Emission Inventory.

Releases of lead to water by source

In 2014, the source category other industries contributed 136.9 t of the total Pb released to water of 145.8 t. This included 134.1 t released from the Mount Polley mine dam failure. The next categories contributing the most to releases of Pb to water were waste, accounting for approximately 5.1 t followed by the pulp, paper and paperboard industry, representing 1.9 t of the national total. Between 2003 and 2014 the source category waste showed the largest reduction in releases (10.4 t or 67%).

Releases of lead to water by source, Canada, 2003 to 2014

stacked column chart - see long description below

Long description

The stacked column chart shows the amount of lead released to water in Canada by source for the years 2003 to 2014. The sources presented are, from bottom to top of each column, other industries, waste, pulp, paper and paperboard industry, non-ferrous smelting and refining, other sources. In 2014, the other industries source contributed 93% (136.9 tonnes) of the total lead released to water (145.8 tonnes). Second was the waste source, which includes wastewater treatment plants, accounting for 5.1 tonnes of total lead. Between 2003 and 2014, waste experienced the largest reduction (10.4 tonnes). The important increase in 2014 under the other industries source is explained by the Mount Polley mine incident in British Columbia.

Data for this chart
Releases of lead to water by source, Canada, 2003 to 2014
YearOther industries
(tonnes)
Waste
(tonnes)
Pulp, paper and paperboard industry
(tonnes)
Non-ferrous smelting and refining
(tonnes)
Other sources
(tonnes)
20034.3815.492.551.740.18
20043.9711.532.842.260.26
20056.119.473.291.820.58
20065.009.902.351.650.24
20073.636.422.371.640.19
20084.7611.582.422.040.16
20093.398.492.252.130.19
20103.2111.972.121.450.14
20113.658.972.911.500.16
20124.664.692.801.750.12
20134.174.662.421.480.13
2014136.925.111.851.770.13

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator only reports releases from human-related sources. The indicator includes the amount of elemental Pb in any compound, alloy or mixture reported in the NPRI based on the NPRI reporting criteria. As a result, the reported Pb releases to water represent only a portion of the releases of this toxic pollutant to water in Canada. Other sources include, transportation (road, rail, air, marine), and fuel for electricity and heating. Other industries include iron and steel industry, oil and gas industry and cement and concrete industry. For more details on the sources, consult the Data Source and Methods.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2016) Overview of Reviewed Facility-Reported Data of the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) 2014.

Lead emissions to air by province and territory

Quebec had the highest Pb emissions level in 2014, representing 42% (56.8 t) of national emissions (136.4 t). Ontario, had the second-highest emission level, with 31% (42.7 t) of national emissions, followed by New Brunswick with 7% (9.8 t). Lead emissions in these three provinces mainly came from the non-ferrous smelting and refining industry in 2014.

Lead emissions to air by province and territory, Canada, 2014[A]

stacked by chart  - see long description below

Long description

The bar chart shows the amount of lead emitted to air for provinces and territories that emitted at least one tonne of lead in 2014. Quebec, with 42% of total emissions, was the highest emitting province. Ontario and New Brunswick followed with 31% and 7% respectively.

Data for this chart
Lead emissions to air by province and territory, Canada, 2014
Province or territoryLead emissions
(tonnes)
Percentage of national emissions
Quebec56.8441.7
Ontario42.6531.3
New Brunswick9.837.2
British Columbia9.156.7
Alberta6.104.5
Manitoba3.752.8
Saskatchewan3.232.4
Newfoundland and Labrador2.782.0
Northwest Territories1.000.7
Nova Scotia0.580.4
Yukon0.250.2
Nunavut0.130.1
Prince Edward Island0.120.1
Canada136.42100

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 830 B)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator only reports releases from human-related sources.
[A] Nova Scotia, Yukon, Nunavut and Prince Edward Island are not shown in the chart due to their low emissions (< 1 t).
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2016) Air Pollutant Emission Inventory.

Releases of lead to water by province and territory

Because of the Mount Polley mine incident, British Columbia facilities accounted for more than 94% of the total Pb releases to water in Canada in 2014. Ontario and Quebec released 3.8 t and 2.7 t respectively of the total lead released to water in Canada. The releases from these two provinces came mostly from wastewater treatment plants.Footnote [3] In 2013, facilities in Ontario and Quebec contributed more than 50% of total releases of Pb to water.

Releases of lead to water by province and territory, Canada, 2013 and 2014[A]

bar chart - see long description below

Long description

The bar chart shows the amount of lead released to water for provinces and territories that released more than 0.3 tonnes of lead in 2014, with 2013 releases provided for comparison. In 2014, British Columbia released 138 tonnes of lead to water (94% of the total) followed by Ontario with 3.8 tonnes (3%) and Quebec with 2.7 tonnes (2%).

Data for this chart
Releases of lead to water by province and territory, Canada, 2013 and 2014
Province or territory2013
lead releases
(tonnes)
2013
percentage of national releases
2014
lead releases
(tonnes)
2014 percentage of national releases
British Columbia2.9222.7137.5494.3
Ontario3.5627.73.762.6
Quebec3.2325.12.701.9
Alberta1.279.90.530.4
New Brunswick1.038.00.400.3
Newfoundland and Labrador0.463.50.330.2
Manitoba0.272.10.310.2
Saskatchewan0.100.80.130.1
Nova Scotia0.010.10.07< 0.1
Prince Edward Island<0.01<0.10.02<0.1
Nunavut0.010.1<0.01<0.1
Northwest Territories<0.01<0.1<0.01<0.1
Canada12.87100145.78100

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.44 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator only reports releases from human-related sources. The indicator includes the amount of elemental Pb in any compound, alloy or mixture reported in the NPRI based on the NPRI reporting criteria. As a result, the Pb releases represent only a portion of the releases of this toxic pollutant to water in Canada.
[A] Yukon did not report releases of Pb to the NPRI in 2013 and 2014. Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories are not shown in the chart due to their low releases (< 0.3 t).
Source:  Environment and Climate Change Canada (2016) Overview of Reviewed Facility-Reported Data of the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) 2014.

Releases of lead from facilities

Environment and Climate Change Canada's NPRI provides detailed information on emissions and releases from industrial and commercial facilities that meet NPRI reporting criteria. 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 releases of lead to water from individual facilities.

Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2016) National Pollutant Release Inventory Online Data Search – Facility Reported Data

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