Volatile organic compound emissions

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Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are carbon-containing gases and vapours released into the atmosphere by natural sources and human activities.Footnote [1] There are hundreds of VOCs that are emitted and that affect the health of Canadians and the environment. VOCs are primary precursors to the formation of ground-level ozone and particulate matter which are the main pollutants contributing to the formation of smog.

Key results

  • In 2015, VOC emissions in Canada were 1859 kilotonnes (kt). This is a 36% decrease from 1990 levels.
  • Since 1998, the oil and gas industry has been the highest contributor to VOC emissions. In 2015, the sector accounted for 37% (693 kt) of total emissions.

Total volatile organic compound emissions by source, Canada, 1990 to 2015

Stacked column chart showing volatile organic compound emissions by source. Long description below.

Long description

The stacked column chart shows total volatile organic compound emissions in Canada by source (oil and gas industry, paints and solvents, home firewood burning, other sources, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment, transportation [road, rail, air and marine], and manufacturing) for the years 1990 to 2015. The emissions are reported in kilotonnes.

Data for this chart
Total volatile organic compound emissions by source, Canada, 1990 to 2015
YearOil and gas industry (emissions in kilotonnes)Paints and solvents (emissions in kilotonnes)Home firewood burning (emissions in kilotonnes)Other sources (emissions in kilotonnes)Off-road vehicles and mobile equipment (emissions in kilotonnes)Transportation (road, rail, air and marine) (emissions in kilotonnes)Manufacturing (emissions in kilotonnes)Total national emissions (emissions in kilotonnes)
1990587.5357.5356.5266.7646.3410.9260.52885.9
1991582.7350.0351.4265.8768.8378.4257.42954.6
1992597.0352.2335.9251.3777.0372.3257.72943.4
1993623.8351.4352.1272.6779.6361.9275.03016.4
1994637.0362.1358.4268.8768.6363.8276.63035.4
1995649.2375.2342.1266.7778.8347.3269.33028.6
1996677.3373.0338.4257.1771.0337.4270.23024.5
1997667.6374.9322.6248.6715.2340.9265.02934.8
1998680.4377.5342.0251.6664.5353.4271.42940.7
1999640.2389.5325.0247.7574.2362.9270.22809.8
2000657.5395.9313.6245.2521.4351.9263.22748.7
2001665.7375.7289.7239.7407.8314.5239.82532.9
2002672.3368.4313.2237.6404.2318.3238.72552.7
2003672.8370.0269.5251.0390.6297.4220.72471.8
2004660.1366.4261.5243.0400.2283.4202.92417.3
2005661.2366.2246.3240.2347.5251.8194.22307.5
2006660.7351.5237.7210.2335.8234.9168.12198.9
2007654.7349.5234.9203.7324.8225.9154.72148.2
2008663.4340.6235.3198.5306.8233.8138.02116.2
2009624.4310.2224.3196.0292.5197.8117.61962.9
2010629.6316.7235.9193.4283.2191.5122.81973.0
2011624.6304.5235.2192.6211.3175.8120.51864.6
2012681.8309.6234.4189.5188.4168.1120.81892.5
2013729.2313.6233.0183.9171.7162.4119.91913.8
2014747.4323.1231.5191.0170.5152.6113.71929.9
2015693.4325.7230.0188.1163.3148.3109.81858.7

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 2.47 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator reports air pollutant emissions from human activities only. The category "other sources" includes emissions from incineration and waste, ore and mineral industries, dust and fires, building heating and energy generation, electric utilities, agriculture (livestock, crop production and fertilizer) 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

The oil and gas industry was the main source of VOC emissions in 2015 with 693 kt emitted (37% of total emissions). Paints and solvents and home firewood burning were also important sources contributing 18% (326 kt) and 12% (230 kt) of total emissions.

The source with the largest emissions reduction between 1990 and 2015 was off-road vehicles and mobile equipment, with emissions reductions of 483 kt (75%).

The long-term decrease in VOC emissions is mainly attributable to 3 factors:

  • the progressive introduction of cleaner technologies and fuels resulting in emission reductions from transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment
  • emission reductions from most industrial and non-industrial sources from improved emission controls
  • lower levels of VOCs in products such as paints, solvents and cleaners

The only source with significant emissions growth over the 1990 to 2015 period was the oil and gas industry with an increase of 106 kt (18%).

Volatile organic compound emissions by province and territory

Key results

  • Alberta emitted the highest proportion of VOCs in 2015. The province represented 33% (620 kt) of national emissions.
  • Between 1990 and 2015, Ontario experienced the largest reduction in VOC emissions. Emissions in the province decreased by 55% (451 kt).
  • Saskatchewan is the only province that experienced an increase in VOC emissions (34 kt) between 1990 and 2015.

Volatile organic compound emissions by province and territory, Canada, 1990 and 2015

Column chart showing volatile organic compound emissions by province and territory. Long description below.

Long description

The column chart shows 1990 and 2015 volatile organic compound emissions in Canada by province and territory. The emissions are reported in kilotonnes.

Data for this chart
Volatile organic compound emissions by province and territory, Canada, 1990 and 2015
Province or territory1990 (emissions in kilotonnes)2015 (emissions in kilotonnes)
Newfoundland and Labrador92.546.4
Prince Edward Island22.27.6
Nova Scotia63.737.8
New Brunswick54.431.2
Quebec500.2286.6
Ontario813.5362.6
Manitoba145.167.9
Saskatchewan195.9229.6
Alberta640.8619.7
British Columbia339.5164.9
Yukon5.90.9
Northwest Territories and Nunavut12.03.5

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 821 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

Alberta was the highest emitting province of VOCs in 2015, with the oil and gas industry as the main source, contributing 74% (461 kt) of the province's emissions.

Ontario was the second-highest emitter responsible for 20% (363 kt) of total national emissions in 2015, with paints and solvents, home firewood burning and off-road vehicles and mobile equipment as the most important sources. Ontario also experienced the largest reduction in emissions of 55% (451 kt) between 1990 and 2015, mainly as a result of emission reductions from off-road vehicles and mobile equipment.

Quebec was the third largest emitter, with 15% (287 kt) of national emissions, where home firewood burning, paints and solvents, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment, and transportation (road, rail, air and marine) accounted for 78% of the emissions in that province.

Most provinces and territories experienced reductions in emissions well above 40% between 1990 and 2015 with the exception of Alberta (only a 3% reduction in emissions due to an increase in the oil and gas industry) and Saskatchewan, where emissions increased 17% over the period. The oil and gas industry is responsible for the increase in emissions in that province.

Volatile organic compound 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 VOC 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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