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Nutrients Science Assessment

Nutrients report coverNWRI led a comprehensive review of the effects of nutrients from human activities on the Canadian environment. Undertaken to meet the Government of Canada's commitment to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, the review documents the nature and extent to which nutrients derived from human activity may be impairing Canadian ecosystems and affecting the quality of life and health of Canadians. Staff from five federal departments (Environment, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Fisheries and Oceans, Health) conducted the assessment under a Memorandum of Understanding that encouraged collaboration and coordination amongst these departments in the use of science and technology for sustainable development.

Their assessment of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) loading from Canadian sources has revealed that nutrients are causing problems in selected Canadian freshwater, coastal, and forest ecosystems and affecting quality of life for many Canadians. For example, nutrients have:

  • accelerated eutrophication of certain rivers, lakes and wetlands in Canada, resulting in loss of habitat, changes in biodiversity and loss of recreational potential.
  • increased the frequency and spatial extent to which drinking-water guidelines for nitrate has been exceeded in ground waters across Canada and caused economic burden for those Canadians who must transport household water from off-site sources.
  • contributed to the decline in amphibians in southern Ontario due to long-term exposure to elevated nitrate concentrations.
  • led to elevated risks to human health through increased frequency and spatial extent of toxic algal blooms in Canadian lakes and coastal waters.
  • contributed to the acidification of soils and lakes in southern Ontario and Québec and resulted in incipient nitrogen saturation in some forested watersheds.
  • increased carbon production in Canada's forests due to nitrogen deposition.
  • increased concentrations of the potent greenhouse gas N2O and increased concentrations of nitrogen oxides that contribute to the formation of photochemical smog in certain Canadian cities.
  • contributed to quality of life concerns for Canadians through water use impairments (e.g., excessive algal and aquatic weed growth; blockages of screens and filters) and aesthetic (taste and odour) concerns related to water supplies.
  • increased the economic burden to Canadians as a result of the need for treatment, monitoring and remediation of contaminated water.

Chambers, P.A., M. Guy, E.S. Roberts, M.N. Charlton, R. Kent, C. Gagnon, G. Grove and N. Foster. 2001. Nutrients and their Impact on the Canadian Environment. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada , Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Health Canada, and Natural Resources Canada. En21-205/2001E.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Patricia Chambers
National Water Research Institute
867 Lakeshore Road, P.O. Box 5050
Burlington, Ontario
L7R 4A6