Managing pulp and paper effluent quality

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The Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations govern the discharge of harmful substances from pulp and paper mills into water frequented by fish. This indicator shows the results achieved since the mid-1980's under these regulations.

 

Results

Key results

  • Between 1985 and 2015, the quality of pulp and paper effluent released directly into the environment improved.
    • Tests for toxicity met regulatory standards 25% of the time in 1985 and 97.6% of the time in 2015.
    • In 1985, tests for biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids met regulatory standards 68% and 60% of the time, respectively. Both tests met the standards 99.9% of the time in 2015.

Percentage of regulatory tests meeting regulatory standards by pulp and paper mills, Canada, 1985 to 2015 (selected years)

Long description

The scatter chart shows the percentage of tests that met regulatory standards for toxicity, biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids in 1985, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2008, and from 2012 to 2015, inclusively.

Data for this chart

Percentage of regulatory tests meeting regulatory standards by pulp and paper mills, Canada, 1985 to 2015 (selected years)

Year

Toxicity tests passed
(percentage)

Total number of toxicity tests

Biochemical oxygen demand tests passed
(percentage)

Total number of biochemical oxygen demand tests

Total suspended solids tests passed
(percentage)

Total number of total suspended solids tests

1985

25

n/a

68

n/a

60

n/a

1996

78

2 517

97.9

37 453

99.7

45 366

1998

90.4

n/a

99.7

n/a

99.9

n/a

2000

94.9

n/a

99.8

n/a

99.8

n/a

2002

95.9

n/a

99.9

n/a

99.9

n/a

2003

96.4

1 966

99.9

33 585

99.9

41 926

2008

97.4

1 847

99.9

20 883

99.9

35 646

2012

98.3

1 535

99.7

16 706

99.8

29 383

2013

96.2

1 540

99.9

16 851

99.8

29 012

2014

97.5

1 457

99.9

16 559

99.8

28 670

2015

97.6

1 319

99.9

15 373

99.9

27 607

Note: n/a = not available.

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Note: Toxicity tests refer to tests of effluent toxicity on fish. Biochemical oxygen demand refers to the amount of dissolved oxygen needed to break down organic material in water. Total suspended solids includes all particles in water that will not pass through a filter. As levels of biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids rise, a water body begins to lose its ability to support aquatic animals.
Source: For 1985 to 2008: Environment Canada (2012) Status report on the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations. For 2012 to 2015: Environment and Climate Change Canada's Forest Products and Fisheries Act Division based on submissions from regulated pulp and paper mills and off-site treatment facilities.

More information

Pulp is produced from wood, fibre crop or waste paper. It can be produced using chemical, semi-chemical or mechanical processes to break the raw materials into fibres to be used to create paper. Large volumes of water are used in pulp production. The pulp and paper industry also ranks second to municipalities in wastewater output into the Canadian environment. A typical kraft mill discharges between 80 000 and 130 000 cubic metres (or roughly 3 to 5 olympic-size swimming pools) of effluent per day into water.

The effluent is a complex combination of waste produced during the pulp and paper-making process including wastewater from debarking, pulp washing, bleaching and regeneration of cooking chemicals. The effluent is treated prior to release, typically in 2 stages: primary and secondary treatment. In primary treatment, suspended solids are removed in clarifiers and/or settling basins. In secondary treatment, bacteria break down biodegradable material and toxic components, thus reducing biochemical oxygen demand, toxicity and levels of total suspended solids that can damage fish habitat downstream from the mill. Secondary biological treatment became common by 1996 following the establishment of current regulatory limits in 1992.

Canada is one of the world leaders in the production of pulp and paper products. In 2015, the pulp, paper and paperboard mills industry employed more than 31 000 CanadiansFootnote 1   and accounted for 0.2% of Canada's gross domestic product.Footnote 2 

About the indicator

About the indicator

What does the indicator measure

This indicator reports the percentage of toxicity, biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solid tests that are within the regulatory limits for selected years between 1985 and 2015.

Why is this indicator important

The Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations (the regulations) were developed under the Fisheries Act in 1971 to govern the discharge of deleterious substances into waters frequented by fish. The regulations were designed to encourage mills to modify their processes in order to improve water quality and protect fish, fish habitat and the use of fisheries resources. They set limits on the amounts of total suspended solids and biochemical oxygen-demanding matter, and prohibit deposits of acutely lethal effluent.

The 1971 regulations differentiated between new, expanded, altered and existing mills. New, expanded and/or altered mills were subject to the prescribed limits. For mills already in operation, the limits served as non-enforceable guidelines. In 1992, the 1971 regulations were updated to expand coverage to all mills, and to promote further effluent quality improvements based on standards achievable using secondary wastewater treatment. After a transition period, all mills became subject to the regulations in 1996. The regulatory standards have remained unchanged since then.

What are the related indicators

The Managing metal mining effluent quality in Canada indicator summarizes the results achieved since the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations came into effect in 2002.

Pristine lakes and rivers

This indicator supports the measurement of progress towards the following 2016–2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy long-term goal: Clean and healthy lakes and rivers support economic prosperity and the well-being of Canadians.

Data sources and methods

Data sources and methods

What are the data sources

Data for the period from 1985 to 2008 are taken from Environment Canada's Status Report on the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations. Data for the period from 2012 to 2015 come from Environment and Climate Change Canada's Forest Products and Fisheries Act Division.

More information

All data were submitted to Environment and Climate Change Canada by regulated pulp and paper mills and off-site treatment facilities. Submission of these data is required under section 7 of the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations (the regulations).

Effluent samples for biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, and acute toxicity are taken throughout the year as outlined in the regulations. For each outfall structure discharging directly into the environment:

  • biochemical oxygen demand tests are run at least 3 times a week
  • total suspended solids are sampled daily
  • toxicity tests are run at least once a month

Data for all active pulp and paper mills across Canada are used. There are mills operating in all provinces, except Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan. When this indicator was produced, the most recent data available were from 2015.

How is this indicator calculated

The indicator shows the rate of compliance with the regulations. The compliance rate is calculated as the number of tests within the regulatory limits in a year divided by the total number of tests taken in a given year for all mills.

More information

Data from selected years (1985, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2008, and 2012 to 2015) are included in order to represent effluent quality at key points in the evolution of the regulations and during restructuring of the industry.

Toxicity tests refer to effluent acute lethality tests conducted on Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Tests according to Environment and Climate Change Canada's Reference Method EPS 1/RM/13 are conducted once a month for each outfall structure discharging directly into water. Effluent is considered acutely lethal if the effluent at 100% concentration kills more than 50% of the Rainbow Trout during a 96-hour period.

What are the caveats and limitations

The indicator only assesses the quality of effluent released into surface waters. Groundwater is not considered in this indicator.

Data are collected for selected years, and there are intermittent gaps in the data.

Other deleterious effects of effluent from pulp and paper mills are not considered with this indicator since the focus is on monitoring under the regulations.

Resources

Resources

References

Environment Canada (2000) Biological Test Method: Reference Method for Determining Acute Lethality of Effluents to Rainbow Trout, Report EPS 1/RM/13. Environmental Protection Series. 2nd ed., December 2000 (with May 2007 amendments). Retrieved on May 30, 2017.

Environment Canada (2012) Status report on the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations. Retrieved on June 15, 2017.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2012) Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations. Retrieved on May 30, 2017.

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