2009 NPRI Reviewed Facility Data Release

2. Overview of Pollutant Releases, Disposals and Recycling Reported to the NPRI for 2009

For 2009, 347 substances or substance groups were listed on the NPRI, and more than 8400 facilities reported on substances. Approximately 400 fewer facilities reported to the NPRI for 2009 compared to 2008. The decrease was primarily due to facility closures, and facilities falling below NPRI reporting thresholds for substances and employee hours

For more information, see the summary of data reported to the NPRI for 2009, including the location of facilities across Canada, major pollutants reported and key contributing sectors. Detailed facility pollutant reports are also available through the NPRI online data search, map layers for use with Google Earth™, and downloadable datasets.

For more information on specific assumptions and considerations in the analysis for the 2009 NPRI data release, please refer to the Technical Notes.

Figure 2.1: Total Releases, Disposals and Recycling (Off-site) Reported to the NPRI for 2009[1]

Total Releases, Disposals and Recycling (Off-site) Reported to the NPRI for 2009

a. Releases to air of criteria air contaminants[2](58.1%):

Over half of the pollutants reported to the NPRI for 2009 were air emissions of criteria air contaminants (CACss), the main pollutants that contribute to smog, acid rain and poor air quality. Some examples of releases to air include discharges through a stack, vent or other point of release; losses from storage and handling of materials; fugitive emissions (releases that cannot be captured and releases that are unintentional); and spills and accidental releases.

The sectors with the largest reported releases of CACs were oil and gas extraction; electricity generation, transmission and distribution; and primary metal smelting.

A breakdown of reported releases for CACs is provided in Table 2.1 below.

Table 2.1: Releases of Criteria Air Contaminants Reported for 2009[1]
Criteria Air ContaminantTonnes Released
Sulphur dioxide1 308 230
Carbon monoxide866 724
Nitrogen oxides (expressed as NO2 )698 015
Total particulate matter284 916
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)243 923
Particulate matter 10 microns (PM10)123 809
Particulate matter 2.5 microns (PM2.5)51 481

Facilities that report to the NPRI are a key source of CAC emissions in Canada. However, there are other major sources, such as motor vehicles, residential heating, forest fires and agriculture. For more information, see 2008 Air Pollutant Emissions Summaries and Historical Emission Trends.

b. Releases to air (excluding criteria air contaminants[2]) (1.5%):

Other than the CACs listed in Table 2.1, the substances that were reported as released to air in the largest amounts for 2009 were ammonia, total reduced sulphur and methanol. The sectors with the largest reported releases of these other air pollutants were pulp, paper and paperboard mills; oil and gas extraction; and chemical manufacturing.

c. Releases to surface waters (1.9%):

Releases to surface waters include direct discharges, spills and leaks. For the purposes of reporting to the NPRI, releases from wastewater treatment plants are included under this category, but discharges to wastewater treatment plants are reported under the category of off-site transfers for treatment prior to final disposal.

The sectors that reported the largest releases to surface water were water, sewage and other systems (primarily municipal sewage treatment plants); pulp, paper and paperboard mills; and metal ore mining.

The substances reported as released to water in the largest amounts were nitrate ion[3] in solution, ammonia, phosphorus, methanol and manganese.

d. Releases to land (0.1%):

Releases to land include spills and leaks.  

The substances reported as released to land in the largest quantities were ethylene glycol, phosphorus, and ammonia.

Ethylene glycol was used primarily as a de-icing agent by facilities in the Support Activities for Air Transportation sector and the Defence Services sector. The Defence Services sector also reported sizable releases to land of copper, lead and zinc, mainly from the firing of weapons at training facilities.

e. Recycling – off-site transfers (16.4%):

Facilities report information on the amounts of the pollutants that they transfer off-site for recycling. Recycling refers to activities that keep a material or a component of the material from becoming a waste destined for final disposal.

For 2009, the substances that were transferred for recycling in the largest quantities were hydrogen sulphide, sulphuric acid and copper (and its compounds).

The top sectors that transferred substances for recycling were support activities for mining and oil and gas extraction (primarily sour gas processing facilities); petroleum and coal products manufacturing; and primary metal manufacturing (e.g., smelting and refining).

f. Disposals (e.g., landfill and underground injection) – excluding tailings and waste rock (13.4%):

Several types of disposals are reported to the NPRI, such as landfill, land application, underground injection, tailings and waste rock.

The substances (excluding those reported for tailings and waste rock) disposed of in the largest quantities were hydrogen sulphide, asbestos (friable form) and methanol.

The top sectors for on-site or off-site disposals were support activities for mining and oil and gas extraction; oil and gas extraction; and waste treatment and disposal.

g. Disposals of tailings (8.3%) and waste rock (0.2%):

“Tailings” are the waste material that remains after the processing of ore, ore concentrate or other mined materials (i.e., oil sands) to extract marketable components such as metals, minerals or bitumen. Depending on the type of process used and the material being recovered, tailings could include finely ground rock material, sand, clay, water, chemicals used in the process, or residual metals, minerals or bitumen.

“Waste rock” is rock that is removed during the mining extraction operations to provide access to the ore, and is not further processed at that time. Waste rock generally consists of fragmented pieces of rock of various sizes. 

The NPRI-listed substances contained in tailings and waste rock generally occur naturally in the rock or bitumen deposits removed during mine operations, typically in low concentrations. However, overall quantities can be large due to the volume of materials removed or processed. Furthermore, while tailings and waste rock in Canada are managed to reduce the risk of environmental contamination, concerns remain due to acidic drainage, potential leakage from tailings ponds and the possibility of wildlife contact with the tailings.

For more information about tailings and waste rock, please refer to the Overview of Tailings and Waste Rock Data Reported to the NPRI for 2009.


[1] The CACs in this pie chart refer to the substances listed in Part 4 of the NPRI substance list. Ammonia can also be considered a CAC, but it is reported under Part 1 of the list. For more information see the Technical Notes.

[2] Not including emissions of road dust reported to the NPRI. For more information, see the Technical Notes.

[3] pH ≥ 6.0