Releases of harmful substances to water

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The release of some substances to the environment can harm human health, wildlife and biological diversity. Toxic metals released to water can enter the food web and accumulate in the tissues of living organisms. Exposure to these substances, even in small amounts, can be hazardous to both humans and wildlife. Mercury and its compounds, lead, and inorganic cadmium compounds are listed as toxicFootnote 1 under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. The mercury, lead and cadmium releases to water indicators track facility-based releases of these substances to water.

Summary

Key results

  • Releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water were 68%, 62% and 45% lower in 2017 than in 2003, respectively
  • In 2014, a significant spillFootnote 2 accounted for 92%, 92% and 59% of total releases of mercury, lead and cadmium, respectively

Releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water, Canada, 2003 to 2017

Releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water, Canada, 2003 to 2017 (see long description below)
Data table for the long description
Releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water, Canada, 2003 to 2017
Year Mercury
(percentage change relative to 2003)
Lead
(percentage change relative to 2003)
Cadmium
(percentage change relative to 2003)
2003 0 0 0
2004 -11 -14 -6
2005 41 -13 -31
2006 -10 -21 -24
2007 -33 -41 -24
2008 -45 -14 -49
2009 -10 -32 -35
2010 -32 -22 -45
2011 -6 -29 -44
2012 -54 -43 -45
2013 -44 -47 -44
2014 518 499 28
2015 -70 -61 -55
2016 -62 -63 -50
2017 -68 -62 -45

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator reports facility-based releases only. This chart accounts only for the releases to water reported in the National Pollutant Release Inventory based on the inventory reporting criteria for releases of mercury, lead and cadmium and their compounds. These amounts should not be interpreted as comprehensive totals of releases to water of these pollutants in Canada.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2018) National Pollutant Release Inventory.

Most releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water are from wastewater and waste management effluents. Wastewater treatment plants do not generate mercury, lead or cadmium. Mercury in wastewater is usually from industrial discharges to sewers from metal finishing, steel manufacturing and refineries, and effluent from waste landfills. The source of lead and cadmium is typically industrial discharges to sewers.

In 2017, wastewater and waste management releases accounted for 68%, 48% and 45% of total releases of mercury, lead and cadmium, respectively. From 2003 to 2017, releases of mercury, lead and cadmium from this source declined by 73%, 72% and 61%, respectively.

The second largest source of releases of mercury, lead and cadmium in 2017 was the pulp and paper industry. For this source, releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water decreased by 19%, 44% and 16%, respectively, between 2003 and 2017.

Taken together, reductions in releases from wastewater treatment plants and from the pulp and paper industry were responsible for 89%, 81% and 96% of the total reduction of releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water, respectively.

Mercury

Releases of mercury to water

Mercury is released directly to water from sources such as the pulp and paper industry, mining operations and metal processing, and indirectly through wastewater treatment plants. Mercury in wastewater is usually from industrial discharges to sewers from metal finishing, steel manufacturing and refineries, and effluent from waste landfills. Releases of mercury can also occur when a product containing mercury is manufactured, used, recycled and disposed of.Footnote 3

Mercury releases to water by source
Mercury releases to water by province and territory
Mercury releases to water from facilities

Mercury releases to water by source

Key results

  • Since 2003, mercury releases to water have declined by 68% or 256 kilograms (kg)
  • In 2017, national releases totalled 120 kg
    • the largest source was wastewater and waste management, representing 68% (81 kg) of the total
  • In 2014, a significant spillootnote 2 accounted for 92% (2 143 kg) of the 2 321 kg of mercury released

Mercury releases to water by source, Canada, 2003 to 2017

Mercury releases to water by source, Canada, 2003 to 2017 (see long description below)
Data table for the long description
Mercury releases to water by source, Canada, 2003 to 2017
Year Wastewater and waste management
(releases to water in kilograms)
Pulp and paper industry
(releases to water in kilograms)
Non-ferrous smelting and refining industry
(releases to water in kilograms)
Mining and rock quarrying
(releases to water in kilograms)
Other sources
(releases to water in kilograms)
Total
(releases to water in kilograms)
2003 303.4 23.9 14.1 0.2 34.3 375.8
2004 270.3 16.9 13.3 7.1 25.3 333.0
2005 434.2 14.0 53.4 0.2 28.5 530.3
2006 225.7 26.0 61.6 3.1 20.6 337.0
2007 167.1 25.4 31.2 3.9 23.3 251.0
2008 146.8 22.8 10.7 3.2 24.5 208.0
2009 163.6 83.6 9.4 16.2 65.8 338.7
2010 136.5 70.5 23.3 4.6 21.4 256.2
2011 173.6 68.2 9.3 90.2 13.2 354.4
2012 99.0 43.2 5.7 15.2 9.1 172.2
2013 123.6 34.6 8.5 38.6 6.2 211.5
2014 87.4 47.8 10.4 2 174.4 1.4 2 321.4
2015 77.9 21.7 5.5 5.1 1.6 111.8
2016 83.3 21.0 30.7 3.4 4.1 142.5
2017 81.4 19.3 12.0 6.8 0.7 120.3

Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 2.07 kB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator reports facility-based releases only. The indicator includes the amount of elemental mercury and mercury in any compound, alloy or mixture reported in the National Pollutant Release Inventory based on the inventory reporting criteria. As a result, the reported mercury releases to water account for only a portion of the releases of this toxic pollutant to water in Canada. Other sources include electric utilities, manufacturing (except pulp and paper), the oil and gas industry, ore and mineral industries (except non-ferrous smelting and refining) and other miscellaneous sources. For more details on sources, please consult the Data sources and methods.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2018) National Pollutant Release Inventory.

In 2017, 3 sectors contributed 94% (113 kg) of total national releases of mercury to water: wastewater and waste management, the pulp and paper industry, and the non-ferrous smelting and refining industry.

The largest reduction in mercury releases to water between 2003 and 2017 was in wastewater and waste management, with a reduction of 222 kg (73%). This decline contributed to 87% of the total decline in mercury releases to water.

Mercury has significant negative effects on human health and the environment. It persists and bioaccumulates in ecosystems and biota. Exposure of Canadians to mercury poses a particular risk to populations such as indigenous people who rely heavily on the consumption of predatory fish, such as freshwater trout or Arctic char, and traditional food items, including marine mammals.

Releases of mercury to water by province and territory

Key results

  • In 2017, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec made up 83% (99 kg) of national mercury releases to water
  • Between 2007 and 2017, the largest reduction in releases of mercury to water was from Quebec, which reduced its releases by 75% (79 kg)

Mercury releases to water by province and territory, Canada, 2007 and 2017

Mercury releases to water by province and territory, Canada, 2007 and 2017 (see long description below)
Data table for the long description
Mercury releases to water by province and territory, Canada, 2007 and 2017
Province or territory 2007
(releases to water in kilograms)
2017
(releases to water in kilograms)
Newfoundland and Labrador < 0.1 0.1
Prince Edward Island n/a n/a
Nova Scotia n/a 0.2
New Brunswick 8.9 2.6
Quebec 106.5 27.1
Ontario 42.9 28.7
Manitoba 0.9 0.4
Saskatchewan n/a n/a
Alberta 43.3 43.6
British Columbia 48.4 17.6
Yukon n/a n/a
Northwest Territories n/a < 0.1
Nunavut n/a n/a
Canada 251.0 120.3

Note: n/a = not available, it indicates that the province or territory has no reported releases. Totals may not add up due to rounding.  

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.30 kB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator reports facility-based releases only. The indicator includes the amount of elemental mercury and mercury in any compound, alloy or mixture reported in the National Pollutant Release Inventory based on the inventory reporting criteria. As a result, the reported mercury releases to water represent only a portion of the releases of this toxic pollutant to water in Canada.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2018) National Pollutant Release Inventory.

Mercury releases to water were highest in Alberta in 2017, accounting for 36% (44 kg) of the national total. It was most commonly released in wastewater effluents.

Quebec had the largest decline in mercury releases between 2007 and 2017. This decline was mostly due to reductions in wastewater and waste management, and the non-ferrous smelting and refining industry. Alberta had a slight increase in releases over this period, as a result of more pulp and paper facilities reporting.

In 2017, wastewater and waste management was the main source of mercury releases to water in Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. The pulp and paper industry was the largest source in New Brunswick. In Quebec, the non-ferrous smelting and refining industry was the main source of releases of mercury to water. In Newfoundland and Labrador and the Northwest Territories, the largest source was mining and rock quarrying.

There were no reported mercury releases to water in Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Yukon and Nunavut for 2007 and 2017. In 2007, the Northwest Territories had no reported releases.

Releases of mercury to water from facilities

The National Pollutant Release Inventory provides detailed information on emissions and releases from industrial and commercial facilities that meet its reporting criteria.

The Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators provide access to this information through an interactive map. The map allows you to explore releases of mercury to water from individual facilities.

Releases of mercury to water by facility, Canada, 2017

Releases of mercury to water by facility, Canada, 2017
Long description

The map of Canada shows the amount of mercury in kilograms released to water in 2017 by facility. Facilities are categorized by the amount of mercury released. The categories are: 0 to 0.01 kilograms, 0.01 to 0.25 kilograms, 0.25 to 1 kilogram, 1 to 2.5 kilograms, 2.5 to 5 kilograms and 5 kilograms or more.

Data for the map

Lead

Releases of lead to water

Lead is released directly to water from sources such as the pulp and paper industry, metal processing, mining and rock quarrying, and indirectly through wastewater treatment plants. Lead in wastewater is usually from industrial discharges to sewers. It is also released by natural processes such as rock and soil erosion. Lead can be deposited on land or water surfaces and then build up in soils or sediments.

Lead releases to water by source
Lead releases to water by province and territory
Lead releases to water from facilities

Lead releases to water by source

Key results

  • Since 2003, lead releases to water have decreased by 62% or 15 188 kilograms (kg)
  • In 2017, national releases totalled 9 150 kg
    • the largest source was wastewater and waste management, representing 48% (4 376 kg) of the total
  • In 2014, a significant spill generated 92% (134 235 kg) of the 145 712 kg of lead releasedFootnote 2

Lead releases to water by source, Canada, 2003 to 2017

Lead releases to water by source, Canada, 2003 to 2017 (see long description below)
Data table for the long description
Lead releases to water by source, Canada, 2003 to 2017
Year Wastewater and waste management
(releases to water in kilograms)
Pulp and paper industry
(releases to water in kilograms)
Other sources
(releases to water in kilograms)
Non-ferrous smelting and refining industry
(releases to water in kilograms)
Mining and rock quarrying
(releases to water in kilograms)
Total
(releases to water in kilograms)
2003 15 486.5 2 583.0 1 901.7 2 253.9 2 112.9 24 338.1
2004 11 526.4 2 886.4 1 630.2 2 881.1 1 924.9 20 849.1
2005 9 472.4 3 340.5 1 964.1 2 778.4 3 712.7 21 268.0
2006 9 899.8 2 365.4 1 568.8 1 874.6 3 427.8 19 136.3
2007 6 417.4 2 370.8 1 395.0 1 819.4 2 251.7 14 254.4
2008 11 582.8 2 424.5 1 492.5 2 194.1 3 271.5 20 965.5
2009 8 489.6 2 252.7 1 954.3 2 148.8 1 611.0 16 456.4
2010 11 973.3 2 116.5 1 938.1 1 526.6 1 339.1 18 893.6
2011 8 974.8 2 908.8 1 886.3 1 518.9 1 875.8 17 164.7
2012 4 686.2 2 800.8 1 641.5 1 773.6 3 072.0 13 974.0
2013 4 660.3 2 423.3 1 905.9 1 483.6 2 388.7 12 861.9
2014 5 114.7 1 849.4 1 417.6 1 768.1 135 562.2 145 712.0
2015 4 395.9 1 637.9 1 236.7 1 336.7 996.7 9 603.9
2016 3 880.5 1 613.6 855.2 1 524.2 1 045.4 8 918.9
2017 4 376.3 1 447.7 1 146.0 1 111.4 1 069.1 9 150.5

Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 2.25 kB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator reports facility-based releases only. The indicator includes the amount of elemental lead and lead in any compound, alloy or mixture reported in the National Pollutant Release Inventory based on the inventory reporting criteria. As a result, the reported lead releases to water account for only a portion of the releases of this toxic pollutant to water in Canada. Other sources include electric utilities, manufacturing (except pulp and paper), the oil and gas industry, ore and mineral industries (except non-ferrous smelting and refining) and other miscellaneous sources. For more details on sources, please consult the Data sources and methods.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2018) National Pollutant Release Inventory.

In 2017, about 64% (5 824 kg) of national releases of lead to water came from wastewater and waste management, and the pulp and paper industry.

Wastewater and waste management contributed to a 73% (11 110 kg) reduction in lead releases to water since 2003. The non-ferrous smelting and refining, pulp and paper, and mining and rock quarrying industries contributed a further 8% (1 143 kg), 7% (1 135 kg) and 7% (1 044 kg), respectively to the decrease in releases.

Exposure to lead, even in small amounts, can be hazardous to both humans and wildlife. Fishing tackle containing lead can pose a serious threat to birds if ingested. A single sinker or jig containing several grams of lead is enough to kill a bird. A recent study estimates every year approximately 460 tonnes of lead sinkers and jigs are lost into Canada's lakes and waterways.Footnote 4

Releases of lead to water by province and territory

Key results

  • In 2017, Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec made up 82% (7 531 kg) of national lead releases to water
  • Between 2007 and 2017
    • the largest reduction in releases of lead to water was from Ontario, which reduced its releases by 42% (1 989 kg)
    • the largest increase in lead releases to water was from Nova Scotia, which had an almost 19-fold (230 kg) increase in releases

Lead releases to water by province and territory, Canada, 2007 and 2017

Lead releases to water by source, Canada, 2003 to 2017 (see long description below)
Data table for the long description
Lead releases to water by province and territory, Canada, 2007 and 2017
Province or territory 2007
(releases to water in kilograms)
2017
(releases to water in kilograms)
Newfoundland and Labrador 1 425.7 22.9
Prince Edward Island n/a 12.8
Nova Scotia 13.0 243.3
New Brunswick 845.6 728.9
Quebec 2 585.5 2 374.1
Ontario 4 723.8 2 734.6
Manitoba 373.6 327.5
Saskatchewan 49.6 31.7
Alberta 651.3 243.1
British Columbia 3 586.2 2 421.8
Yukon n/a n/a
Northwest Territories n/a 0.3
Nunavut n/a 9.4
Canada 14 254.4 9 150.5

Note: n/a = not available, it indicates that the province or territory has no reported releases. Totals may not add up due to rounding.

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.32 kB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator reports facility-based releases only. The indicator includes the amount of elemental lead and lead in any compound, alloy or mixture reported in the National Pollutant Release Inventory based on the inventory reporting criteria. As a result, the reported lead releases to water represent only a portion of the releases of this toxic pollutant to water in Canada.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2018) National Pollutant Release Inventory.

Lead releases to water were highest in Ontario in 2017, accounting for 30% (2 735 kg) of the national total.

Ontario also had the largest decline in lead releases between 2007 and 2017. This decline was mostly due to reductions in releases from wastewater and waste management, and mining and rock quarrying. Nova Scotia had the largest increase in releases over this period. This increase was the result of reported data for a single wastewater treatment plant.

In 2017, wastewater and waste management was the main source of lead releases to water in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island. In British Columbia, the largest source was the non-ferrous smelting and refining industry. Mining and rock quarrying was the largest source in New Brunswick, Manitoba, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the largest source was the oil and gas industry.

In 2007, there were no reported releases of lead in Prince Edward Island, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. All provinces and territories reported releases in 2017, except for Yukon.

Releases of lead to water from facilities

The National Pollutant Release Inventory provides detailed information on emissions and releases from industrial and commercial facilities that meet its reporting criteria.

The Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators provide access to this information through an interactive map. The map allows you to explore releases of lead to water from individual facilities.

Releases of lead to water by facility, Canada, 2017

Releases of lead to water by facility, Canada, 2017
Long description

The map of Canada shows the amount of lead in kilograms released to water in 2017 by facility. Facilities are categorized by the amount of lead released. The categories are: 0 to 0.5 kilograms, 0.5 to 5 kilograms, 5 to 20 kilograms, 20 to 50 kilograms, 50 to 100 kilograms and 100 kilograms or more.

Data for the map

Cadmium

Releases of cadmium to water

Cadmium can be released directly to water from human activities such as non-ferrous smelting and refining, and fuel consumption for electricity or heating, and indirectly through wastewater treatment plants. Cadmium in wastewater is usually from industrial discharges to sewers. Cadmium is a naturally occurring metal. It is used in batteries and in electroplating to protect other metals from corrosion.

Cadmium releases to water by source
Cadmium releases to water by province and territory
Cadmium releases to water from facilities

Cadmium releases to water by source

Key results

  • Since 2003, cadmium releases to water have declined by 45% or 2 218 kilograms (kg)
  • In 2017, national releases totalled 2 725 kg
    • the largest source was wastewater and waste management, representing about 45% (or 1 235 kg) of national releases
  • In 2014, a significant spill accounted for 59% (3 768 kg) of the 6 340 kg of cadmium releasedFootnote 2

Cadmium releases to water by source, Canada, 2003 to 2017

Cadmium releases to water by source, Canada, 2003 to 2017 (see long description below)
Data table for the long description
Cadmium releases to water by source, Canada, 2003 to 2017
Year Wastewater and waste management
(releases to water in kilograms)
Pulp and paper industry
(releases to water in kilograms)
Non-ferrous smelting and refining industry
(releases to water in kilograms)
Mining and rock quarrying
(releases to water in kilograms)
Other sources
(releases to water in kilograms)
Total
(releases to water in kilograms)
2003 3 194.7 1 012.2 426.4 179.8 129.6 4 942.8
2004 2 258.1 957.7 867.8 423.0 136.2 4 642.7
2005 1 390.6 931.1 454.0 400.3 228.8 3 404.7
2006 1 450.8 1 076.4 435.3 514.6 266.9 3 744.0
2007 1 113.3 1 104.2 877.7 395.8 263.8 3 754.8
2008 977.0 766.1 394.8 52.7 346.4 2 536.9
2009 1 259.9 710.4 365.4 367.9 509.3 3 212.8
2010 1 211.2 704.5 289.0 186.3 344.7 2 735.8
2011 1 356.3 777.4 321.5 134.1 201.8 2 791.1
2012 1 231.4 823.4 326.0 155.9 199.6 2 736.4
2013 902.2 1 095.6 352.2 268.0 145.9 2 763.8
2014 968.0 941.5 319.5 4 002.8 107.9 6 339.7
2015 976.7 770.0 287.3 114.7 83.8 2 232.5
2016 1 117.9 827.2 314.1 110.5 103.3 2 473.0
2017 1 234.6 854.3 282.2 237.7 116.4 2 725.2

Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 2.18 kB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator reports facility-based releases only. The indicator includes the amount of elemental cadmium and cadmium in any compound, alloy or mixture reported in the National Pollutant Release Inventory based on the inventory reporting criteria. As a result, the reported cadmium releases to water account for only a portion of the releases of this toxic pollutant to water in Canada. Other sources include electric utilities, manufacturing (except pulp and paper), the oil and gas industry, ore and mineral industries (except non-ferrous smelting and refining) and other miscellaneous sources. For more details on sources, please consult the Data sources and methods.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2018) National Pollutant Release Inventory.

In 2017, 87% (2 371 kg) of cadmium released to water came from wastewater and waste management, the pulp and paper industry, and the non-ferrous smelting and refining industry.

Wastewater and waste management contributed to an 88% (1 960 kg) reduction in cadmium releases to water since 2003. The pulp and paper and non-ferrous smelting and refining industries each contributed an additional 7% (158 kg and 144 kg, respectively) to the total decrease in cadmium.

Between 2003 and 2017, the largest reduction in releases of cadmium to water was from wastewater and waste management, with a reduction of 61% (1 960 kg).

Exposure to cadmium can be hazardous to both humans and wildlife.

Releases of cadmium to water by province and territory

Key results

  • In 2017, Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec made up 84% (2 300 kg) of national cadmium releases to water
  • Between 2007 and 2017
    • the largest reduction in releases of cadmium to water was from New Brunswick, which reduced its releases by 85% (825 kg)
    • the largest increase in cadmium releases to water was from British Columbia, which had a 15% (97 kg) increase in releases

Cadmium releases to water by province and territory, Canada, 2007 and 2017

Cadmium releases to water by province and territory, Canada, 2007 and 2017 (see long description below)
Data table for the long description
Cadmium releases to water by province and territory, Canada, 2007 and 2017
Province or territory 2007
(releases to water in kilograms)
2017
(releases to water in kilograms)
Newfoundland and Labrador 25.6 0.1
Prince Edward Island n/a 16.7
Nova Scotia 10.0 1.1
New Brunswick 966.1 141.1
Quebec 723.7 423.3
Ontario 1 053.0 1 118.1
Manitoba 91.3 88.8
Saskatchewan 18.3 0.9
Alberta 206.1 176.7
British Columbia 660.8 758.3
Yukon n/a n/a
Northwest Territories n/a 0.1
Nunavut n/a < 0.1
Canada 3 754.8 2 725.2

Note: n/a = not available, it indicates that the province or territory has no reported releases. Totals may not add up due to rounding.

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.32 kB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The indicator reports facility-based releases only. The indicator includes the amount of elemental cadmium and cadmium in any compound, alloy or mixture reported in the National Pollutant Release Inventory based on the inventory reporting criteria. As a result, the reported cadmium releases to water represent only a portion of the releases of this toxic pollutant to water in Canada.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2018) National Pollutant Release Inventory.

Cadmium releases to water were highest in Ontario in 2017, accounting for 41% (1 118 kg) of the national total. Wastewater and waste management was the main source of these releases.

Between 2007 and 2017, New Brunswick had the largest decrease in cadmium releases. This decrease was mostly due to reductions at a non-ferrous smelting and refining facility and within the pulp and paper industry. British Columbia had the largest increase in releases over this period. The increase resulted from larger releases by the pulp and paper industry.

In 2017, wastewater and waste management was the main source of cadmium releases to water in Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan. The pulp and paper industry was the largest source in British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta and New Brunswick, while mining and rock quarrying was the largest source in Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut. In Nova Scotia, the largest source was electric utilities.

In 2007, there were no reported releases of cadmium in Prince Edward Island, Yukon, the Northwest Territories or Nunavut. All provinces and territories reported releases in 2017, except for Yukon.

Releases of cadmium to water from facilities

The National Pollutant Release Inventory provides detailed information on emissions and releases from industrial and commercial facilities that meet its reporting criteria.

The Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators provide access to this information through an interactive map. The map allows you to explore releases of cadmium to water from individual facilities.

Releases of cadmium to water by facility, Canada, 2017

Releases of cadmium to water by facility, Canada, 2017 (see long description below)
Long description

The map of Canada shows the amount of cadmium in kilograms released to water in 2017 by facility. Facilities are categorized by the amount of cadmium released. The categories are: 0 to 0.5 kilograms, 0.5 to 5 kilograms, 5 to 10 kilograms, 10 to 20 kilograms, 20 to 40 kilograms and 40 kilograms or more.

Data for the map

About the indicators

About the indicators

What the indicators measure

These indicators track facility-based releases to water of 3 substances that are defined as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999: mercury, lead and cadmium and their compounds. For each substance, data are provided at the national, regional (provincial and territorial) and facility level and by source.

Why these indicators are important

Mercury and its compounds, lead and inorganic cadmium compounds are on the Toxic substances list under Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. This means that these substances are "entering or may enter the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that (a) have or may have an immediate or long-term harmful effect on the environment or its biological diversity; (b) constitute or may constitute a danger to the environment on which life depends; or (c) constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health."

The indicators inform Canadians about releases to water of these 3 substances from facilities in Canada. The Releases of harmful substances to water indicators also help the government to identify priorities and develop or revise strategies to inform further risk management and to track progress on policies put in place to reduce or control these 3 substances and water pollution in general.

Safe and healthy communities

These indicators support the measurement of progress towards the following 2016–2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy long-term goal: All Canadians live in clean, sustainable communities that contribute to their health and well-being.

In addition, the indicators contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They are linked to the 2030 Agenda's Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production and Target 12.4: "By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment."

Related indicators

The Emissions of harmful substances to air indicators track human-related emissions to air of 3 toxic substances, namely mercury, lead and cadmium, and their compounds. For each toxic substance, data are provided at the national and regional (provincial and territorial) level and by source. Facility and global emissions to air are also provided for mercury.

The Human exposure to harmful substances indicators track the concentrations of 4 substances (mercury, lead, cadmium and bisphenol A) in the Canadian population.

Data sources and methods

Data sources and methods

Data sources

Data for the indicators and the interactive maps are taken from the normalized dataset of the National Pollutant Release Inventory (the inventory). These indicators include the amount of elemental mercury, lead and cadmium in any compound, alloy or mixture released to water as reported to the inventory based on its reporting criteria as listed in section 5.3 of the Guide to Reporting to the National Pollutant Release Inventory 2018 and 2019 (PDF; 1.50 MB).

More information

The inventory is compiled by Environment and Climate Change Canada (the department), and includes releases reported by industrial, commercial and institutional facilities. It is Canada's legislated, publicly accessible inventory of pollutant releases (to air, water and land), disposals and transfers for recycling. It consists of information reported by facilities to the department under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (the act). Under the act, owners or operators of facilities that manufacture, process or otherwise use or release one or more of the substances tracked by the inventory and that meet reporting thresholds and other requirements must report their pollutant releases annually.

Estimation of releases to water

Releases to water are estimated or measured through one of the following methods:

  • continuous emission monitoring systems
  • predictive emission monitoring
  • source testing
  • mass balance
  • site-specific emission factors
  • published emission factors
  • engineering estimates

These measurement methods and estimation techniques are used by the facilities to report their releases (point sources) to the inventory. The Report to the National Pollutant Release Inventory program web page provides information to owners or operators of facilities required to report to the inventory, as well as details on the program's calculation methods.

Data completeness

Because the indicators are derived solely from the inventory's database, they reflect only releases from facilities that met the reporting criteria. As a result, the indicators do not include all releases in Canada. They are limited to the main point sources for each selected toxic substance.

Data timeliness

The data are current up to 2017. The indicators are reported approximately 1.5 years after data collection because of the time required for data validation, analysis and interpretation.

Methods

The indicators are produced by grouping data from the inventory to report on the key sources that contribute to the majority of mercury, lead and cadmium releases to water.

More information

Indicator coverage

Historical data are provided at the national level and by source for the period from 2003 to 2017. The year 2003 was selected as the first year for releases to water because it was the year the inventory updated its reporting criteria for mercury, lead and cadmium. For the regional (provincial/territorial) indicators, releases to water are provided for 2007 and 2017. Releases of mercury, lead and cadmium to water by facility are displayed on the Environmental Indicators interactive maps.

Sources classification

Source descriptions for the indicators were taken from Statistics Canada's North American Industry Classification System. The 4-digit code of the classification system, as reported by the facilities, was used for source classification for the data reported by the inventory. These sources were then classified into the following sources for reporting in the indicators:

  • electric utilities
  • wastewater and waste management
  • manufacturing (except pulp and paper)
  • mining and rock quarrying
  • miscellaneous
  • non-ferrous smelting and refining industry
  • oil and gas industry
  • ore and mineral industries (except non-ferrous smelting and refining)
  • pulp and paper industry

Table 1 shows the allocation of sources of harmful substances reported in the indicators compared with those reported by the inventory.

Table 1. Alignment of sources reported in the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators and the National Pollutant Release Inventory
Sources in the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators Sources in the National Pollutant Release Inventory
(based on the North American Industry Classification System)
Electric utilities Electric power generation, transmission and distribution
Wastewater and waste management Water, sewage and other systems
Wastewater and waste management Waste collection
Wastewater and waste management Waste treatment and disposal
Wastewater and waste management Remediation and other waste management services
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Forest nurseries and gathering of forest products
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Sawmills and wood preservation
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Veneer, plywood and engineered wood product manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Petroleum and coal product manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Basic chemical manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Pesticide, fertilizer and other agricultural chemical manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Other chemical product manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Rubber product manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Glass and glass product manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Cement and concrete product manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Forging and stamping
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Spring and wire product manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Coating, engraving, cold and heat treating and allied activities
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Other fabricated metal product manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Engine, turbine and power transmission equipment manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Electrical equipment manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Other electrical equipment and component manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Motor vehicle parts manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Aerospace product and parts manufacturing
Manufacturing (except pulp and paper) Other miscellaneous manufacturing
Mining and rock quarrying Coal mining
Mining and rock quarrying Metal ore mining
Mining and rock quarrying Non-metallic mineral mining and quarrying
Miscellaneous Support activities for water transportation
Miscellaneous Other professional, scientific and technical services
Miscellaneous General medical and surgical hospitals
Non-ferrous smelting and refining industry Non-ferrous metal (except aluminum) production and processing
Oil and gas industry Oil and gas extraction
Ore and mineral industries (except non-ferrous smelting and refining) Iron and steel mills and ferro-alloy manufacturing
Ore and mineral industries (except non-ferrous smelting and refining) Steel product manufacturing from purchased steel
Ore and mineral industries (except non-ferrous smelting and refining) Alumina and aluminum production and processing
Ore and mineral industries (except non-ferrous smelting and refining) Foundries
Pulp and paper industry Pulp, paper and paperboard mills

For display purposes, sources with smaller releases are sometimes grouped together under the category "Other sources" in the charts of releases by source. The names of the grouped sources are listed in the notes of each chart.

Caveats and limitations

The indicators reflect only facility-based releases to water as reported to the inventory. They do not include estimates of releases from other sources, such as runoff from cities, transboundary pollution or from consumer products in Canada.

Occasional updates and data quality checking can be done after initial release of the inventory's normalized dataset.

The number and composition of facilities that report releases to water to the inventory vary each year. This variation is due to the fact that only facilities that meet or exceed the reporting threshold are required to report. An analysis of how this might affect the apparent trends has not been undertaken.

Facilities reporting to the inventory may use different methods to calculate releases. These methods vary depending on the substance and/or facility, and may also change from year to year.

Resources

Resources

References

Environment and Climate Change Canada (2017) Using and interpreting data from the National Pollutant Release Inventory. Retrieved on February 18, 2019.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (2018) Access data from the National Pollutant Release Inventory. September 13, 2018 version. Retrieved on February 18, 2019.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (2018) Study to gather use pattern information on lead sinkers and jigs and their non-lead alternatives in Canada. Retrieved on February 18, 2019.

Related information

NPRI sector overview: Metal ore mining

NPRI sector overview: Wastewater

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