Environmental emergencies: program overview

The Environmental Emergencies Program (EEP) was founded in 1973 following a major oil spill in Nova Scotia. This incident highlighted the need for the Government of Canada to have the tools and expertise required to inform the identification of environmental protection priorities so that environmental consequences from significant pollution incidents are minimized.

Program mission

The Environmental Emergencies Program protects Canadians and their environment from the effects of environmental emergencies through the provision of science-based expert advice and regulations.

Key activites

  • Trusted science and expert advice: The EEP’s National Environmental Emergencies Centre (NEEC) provides science-based expert advice 24/7; its scientific advice informs actions that reduce the consequences of environmental emergencies. During an emergency, the NEEC is Environment Canada’s focal point for the provision of scientific advice, such as weather forecast, contaminant dispersion and trajectory modelling, fate and behaviour of hazardous substances, the establishment of clean-up priorities and techniques, as well as the protection of sensitive ecosystems and wildlife such as migratory birds and fish. The EEP provides expert advice on environmental assessments as well as technical advice to industry to improve their emergency plans when they use substances regulated under the Environmental Emergency Regulations
  • Emergency notification system: The NEEC implements a pollution incident notification system as polluters are required to notify authorities when a spill of hazardous substances occurs in contravention of the Fisheries Act or the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999). The NEEC collaborates with federal, provincial, territorial and sometimes international emergency 24/7 call centres to enable rapid sharing of information so that authorities are alerted when environmental emergencies occur.
  • Environmental prioritization: During environmentally significant pollution incidents, the NEEC identifies environmental resources at risk and environmental protection priorities. The NEEC uses a variety of tools, such as the GIS-based Environmental Emergencies Management System (E2MS), and uses pathway analyses (trajectory and dispersion modelling in air, water and soil) to provide a common operating picture for emergency response agencies to support quick and informed decision making for areas requiring special attention or protection.
  • Scientific advice coordination: For significant pollution incidents requiring multi-agency cooperation, the NEEC may chair a Science Table when requested by the lead agency. The Science Table brings together relevant experts in the field of environmental protection during significant environmental emergency response efforts. The members of Science Tables can include response agencies, all levels of government, Aboriginal representatives, local communities, industries, environmental non-government organizations and academic institutions.
  • Environmental protection authorities: Should a responsible party fail to take adequate response actions to protect the environment, Environmental Emergencies Officers (EEO) can, under provisions of CEPA 1999 or the Fisheries Act, issue directions to the responsible party to act to mitigate the effects of a pollution incident. All directions issued by EEOs are enforced by EC’s Environmental Enforcement Directorate.
  • Environmental recovery: The NEEC can conduct post-emergency assessments, provide specialized advice in shoreline clean-up assessment techniques (SCAT), and provide endpoint advice on ecosystem recovery objectives.
  • Environmental Emergency Regulations: The EEP implements and promotes the compliance of the Environmental Emergency Regulations under CEPA 1999 to protect the environment and human health from accidental releases of hazardous substances from fixed industrial facilities. As of 2013, there are 215 regulated substances and more than 4350 industrial regulatees.
  • Highly trained staff: The EEP is supported by well-trained operational preparedness, response and compliance promotion personnel who are ready to provide science-based expert advice to reduce the consequences of environmental emergencies.

Environment Canada's environmental emergencies program

The Environmental Emergencies Program has a head office in Gatineau, Québec, a preparedness, response and notification centre in Montreal, Québec, and a staff person in each of Environment Canada’s other regions (Atlantic, Ontario, Prairie and Northern, and Pacific and Yukon).

  • The office in Gatineau focuses on the program management as well as regulatory, prevention, and preparedness policy activities. Emergencies expert advice is also provided for Environmental Assessment reviews of significant development projects.
  • The NEEC, based in Montreal, is comprised of two groups: the Program Development and Innovation Section and the Preparedness and Response Section. The NEEC is the focal point for the provision of Environment Canada’s expert scientific and technical advice during the response phase of an environmental emergency.

Program staff located in the four other EC regional offices undertake risk-management and compliance-promotion activities of the Environmental Emergency Regulations under CEPA 1999 and provide regional expertise to the EEP for prevention and preparedness as required.

Environmental emergencies program's guiding principles

  • Science-based decision-making: By providing trusted, science-based expert advice, the Program is able to assist emergency response agencies, responsible parties and industry to make responsible decisions about the environment before, during and after an environmentally significant pollution incident.
  • The “polluter-pays principle”: Polluters should bear the responsibility for their actions. Companies or people that pollute should pay the costs they impose on society.
  • The principle of escalation: Environment Canada is ready 24/7, to respond to requests for its science and expertise for significant pollution incidents, or those that trigger the Department’s authorities under the Fisheries Act or CEPA 1999. Fortunately, the most frequent pollution incidents are small, do not pose significant risks to the environment, can be managed by the private sector with oversight from other levels of government, and do not require Environment Canada’s involvement.
  • Net environmental benefit: Most pollution incidents degrade the environment. Some response actions can also cause additional environmental impacts. Environment Canada provides the science to help identify the optimal response actions that will lead to a net environmental benefit.
  • Aligned with Environment Canada’s mission and vision: The Environmental Emergencies Program’s activities contribute to the Department’s efforts to minimize the threats to Canadians and their environment from pollution.

Program vision

The Environmental Emergencies Program aims to be nationally recognized for providing trusted, science-based expert advice that serves to minimize the frequency and consequences of environmental emergencies.

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Privacy statement

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: