Environmental emergencies: response

When it comes to environmental emergencies, no single organization can do it all. Effective emergency response requires teamwork among governments, industry, communities and local organizations. These partnerships are best formed during non-emergency periods.

When an emergency occurs, the responsible party is required to take all reasonable measures to contain and stop the release and  notify authorities for which they are regulated.  In line with the polluter pays principle, the responsible party is required to assume all costs related to response and recovery of the affected environment.  The lead agency with primary jurisdiction for the spill oversees and monitors response and recovery efforts by the responsible party and further, may request that Environment and Climate Change Canada provide scientific and technical advice to inform response actions that will reduce the environmental impact of the spill. Additionally, Environment and Climate Change Canada has legislative responsibility to address pollution incidents that impact federally managed resources such as fish and wildlife under the Fisheries Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, as well as hazardous substances regulated by the Environmental Emergency Regulations. Environment and Climate Change Canada may issue directions under its legislative mandate if the environment is not being adequately protected and, when warranted take over the lead agency role.

In the event of a polluting incident that requires Environment and Climate Change Canada’s involvement, the National Environmental Emergencies Centre (NEEC) is Environment and Climate Change 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. Environment and Climate Change Canada's Emergency officers have Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) expertise which enables response in the event of spills involving hazardous materials.

The NEEC responds to spills by assessing the impact and damage to the environment resulting from an environmental emergency and supporting, recommending or directing actions to reduce the consequences on the environment and human life or health.

Environment and Climate Change Canada's expertise in the areas of environmental emergencies science and meteorological forecasting play a key role in delivery of the program domestically and internationally. NEEC, backed by scientific support and expertise from Emergencies Science and Technology Section, the Meteorological Service of Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service, provides advice and support on:

  • the physical and chemical properties of various substances known to be toxic and/or harmful to the environment;
  • the environmental components of the receiving environment that may be affected;
  • the possible consequences of interactions when components of the environment are affected by these substances;
  • the provision of weather forecasts and warnings; atmospheric and hydrologic trajectory and dispersion modeling; and other hydro-meteorological related services (e.g., ice and iceberg charts) and;
  • the biology and protection of migratory birds.

Emergencies Science and Technology Section (ESTS)

Scientists at the Emergencies Science and Technology Section (ESTS) carry out internationally recognized research and development in the field of environmental emergencies. ESTS undertakes research on the characteristics of hazardous materials, the effectiveness and environmental benefits of spill clean-up techniques. Research and development is also carried out on techniques for measuring contamination in air, water, and soil at spill sites and on technologies for airborne remote sensing of spills.

Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC)

The Meteorological Service of Canada provides timely observations, forecasts and warnings of weather conditions, ice, sea-state and other physical phenomena. MSC's activities provide crucial modeling support for the determination of dispersion and trajectories for nuclear, oil and chemical releases.

Canadian Wildlife Service

The Canadian Wildlife Service administers and implements Environment and Climate Change Canada’s mandate for migratory birds and other wildlife and habitat. It provides data on migratory birds and species at risk and areas to be protected; conducts surveys of affected or potentially affected areas and the migratory birds populations; coordinates the rescue, triage and treatment of affected migratory birds and endangered species; provides guidance to other agencies and volunteers on the clean-up of migratory birds and endangered species; samples and analyzes oiled and affected wildlife for possible prosecution of the responsible party; assesses the damage to migratory birds and species at risk (and their populations); provides documentation for future cost recovery from the responsible party; and studies affected population to determine the status of recovery and that of the critical habitat.


The Enforcement Branch, in collaboration with several Environment and Climate Change Canada programs and other provincial, national and international partners, works to ensure that companies and individuals comply with environmental and wildlife acts and regulations.  EC’s enforcement officers conduct formal inspections to verify compliance with the environmental and wildlife acts and regulations. If there are reasonable grounds to believe non-compliance with the legislation has occurred, an investigation is initiated for the purposes of gathering evidence and takes appropriate enforcement measures against alleged offenders.

Science Table

During the response to an environmental emergency requiring multi-agency cooperation, the Environmental Emergencies Science Table (the “Science Table”) can be convened to provide advice to the lead agency. The Science Table brings together relevant experts in the field of environmental protection such as response agencies, all levels of government, Aboriginal representatives, local communities, industries, environmental non-government organizations, and academic institutions. 

The Science Table of experts is able to develop consensus on protection and clean-up priorities, bring the right expertise, adapt the scale of response to a particular environmental emergency, and provide a forum for rapidly moving information to minimize damage to human life or health, or the environment while maximizing the use of limited response resources.  These discussions can occur on-site, or by telephone or videoconference.

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: