Environmental release guidelines: fact sheet

This fact sheet outlines the key characteristics of release guidelines. Release guidelines are risk management instruments that we put in place for a substance or sector. We publish these policy tool to help protect the environment or human health.

Release guidelines defined

Release guidelines are voluntary instruments that recommend limits for the release of substances into the environment from works, undertakings or activities. Release guidelines are not enforceable. They set out official national guidelines that companies and organizations should follow.

Under Part 3 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), both the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health have the authority to publish release guidelines. The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment can also publish release guidelines.

Common elements

Release guidelines typically contain the following sections:

  • an introduction that describes the context, purpose and objective of the release guidelines
  • a description of those we expect to follow the release guidelines (in other words, the target audience)
  • the environmental or health concerns related to the releases of the substance into the environment
  • the recommended release limit(s), usually expressed in terms of concentrations or quantities, that the target audience should follow
  • the data collection, reporting and verification activities associated with the release guidelines

Release guidelines are flexible

Release guidelines offer us a lot of flexibility, in the sense that:

  • they can target any substance or group of substances, including (but not limited to) substances on Schedule 1 of CEPA
  • we can use them on their own, or as part of a mix of instruments to address an environmental issue
  • they can apply to a substance at any stage of its life-cycle, from its manufacture to its use, storage, transport, release and ultimate disposal
  • they can be adopted at any level of government, by industry associations or even internationally

Release guidelines also offer flexibility to those who follow it. The target audience can determine the best approach to achieve the limit in their own circumstances.

When we use release guidelines

Release guidelines are voluntary risk management instruments. They are most appropriate when the target audience is motivated and has a good compliance history with other risk management instruments.

We typically use release guidelines when:

  • we can identify and measure quantitative (numerical) limits for the use or release of a substance
  • there are generally few release points of the substance over its life-cycle
  • there is no need to communicate specific practices or techniques to the target audience

How we develop release guidelines

We can set release limits for a substance or group of substances based on safe levels for the environment or human health. These safe levels can be determined during the risk assessment process. Release limits can also align with requirements of other governments inside or outside Canada.

We collaborate with the target audience throughout the development process. This helps ensure that the release limits are relevant and usable and that the target audience is willing and able to take action. We publish proposed release guidelines and offer to consult with provincial and Aboriginal governments (as required under CEPA). We consider the comments received to publish final release guidelines in the Canada Gazette.

Related information

Contact us

Regulatory Innovation and Management Systems
Environment and Climate Change Canada
351 Saint-Joseph Blvd
Gatineau QC  K1A 0H3

Email: dr-rg@ec.gc.ca

July 2021

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