Environmental emergencies

Environment and Climate Change Canada takes a comprehensive approach to protecting Canadians and the environment from pollution emergencies by providing science-based advice. This advice aims to better prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from environmental emergencies.

We administer laws and regulations that organizations and individuals must comply with to protect the environment. For environmental emergencies, we ensure all reasonable measures are taken to protect the environment as mandated by legislation including:

An environmental emergency is an uncontrolled or unexpected incident involving the actual or likely release of a polluting substance into the environment. For example, the accidental spill of a hazardous substance from a ship at sea or from a train on land.

Our experts across the country work together to provide trusted, expert advice to assist agencies, responsible parties and industry in making environmentally sound decisions before, during and after an environmental emergency. We rely on experts from a variety of scientific disciplines including:

We also support more than 50 external partners, including the Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada, and Health Canada, provincial and territorial departments of the environment, Indigenous Peoples, the United States Coast Guard, and more.

Four pillars of environmental emergencies   


Taking action to reduce risks helps to protect the environment. Preventative measures are also more efficient and cost-effective than responding to and recovering from pollution emergencies. Our compliance promotion team works with industry to provide advice and guidance on managing hazardous substances at their facilities. This includes guidance to industrial operators in Canada to identify potential environmental risks at their facilities and develop appropriate emergency plans. This guidance helps industry, including small business owners, to understand their responsibilities under Canadian legislation to protect the environment and prevent hazardous spills.

One key piece of legislation is the Environmental Emergency Regulations, 2019. These regulations require facilities that manage certain hazardous substances to assess the risks of a spill, make plans to mitigate these risks and respond to any spill.


We work to strengthen our partnerships and capacity within the environmental emergency response community. This includes establishing protocols and industry best practices as well as participating in response exercises. For example, oil-spill response exercises test our emergency plans, helping to improve them, and they provide an opportunity to collaborate with partners before needing to respond to a real-life environmental emergency.


When responding to environmental emergencies, our National Environmental Emergencies Centre coordinates the scientific advice from various Government of Canada departments. This advice and technical expertise includes dispersion modelling of hazardous substances in the environment; weather and meteorological support; analysis of migratory birds, species at risk and sensitive habitat; and other environmental protection considerations to help reduce environmental damage during the response to an environmental emergency. These services are available 24/7 to protect Canadians and the environment during an emergency.


After the response phase is complete, our environmental emergency officers continue to monitor environmental conditions. Officers may help to identify clean-up measures and recovery goals, establish long-term monitoring objectives, and support routine site visits. Environmental restoration prioritizes the most important areas where there are lasting, long-term environmental impacts that can be reversed or reduced with clean-up efforts.

Notifications for environmental emergencies

Federal legislation requires that environmental emergencies be officially reported to responsible authorities under specific timeframes. Agreements and regulations among federal, provincial and territorial governments help provide a streamlined system and approach to notifying authorities when an environmental emergency happens.

Polluter Pays Principle

Federal legislation requires that the costs of pollution are paid for by those who cause it.  This means that the polluter is required to take all reasonable actions to mitigate environmental effects and to repair any resulting environmental damage. Polluters should pay all the costs that they impose on society by or through their actions.

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