Access to the National Pollutant Release Inventory
This website provides you with access to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), a database maintained by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). It is a freely accessible resource that collects data on hundreds of different substances that are released to the land, water, and air from a variety of industrial, commercial and institutional sources across Canada. By using the search functions included on this site, you can learn more about any particular substance, including where it has been released, the amount of those releases, and how such releases have changed from year to year.
Pollutants can have harmful effects on human health and the environment. Substances such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter all contribute to acid rain and smog, and can impact human health.
Each substance in the NPRI has been included because it could have a significant impact on the environment or human health. The facilities that release these substances, and meet the reporting requirements, are legally required to report their releases and submit this information to ECCC. This reporting requirement began in 1993 as part of international efforts to deal with pollution problems around the world. The NPRI was Canada’s response to a call for continuously improving the tracking of pollutants and management of their effects so that their impacts could be also be better managed.
The NPRI now operates through a central piece of legislation, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA). The Act maintains a definitive list of substances that are harmful to the environment or human health. It also requires research into how these substances behave in the environment, as well as guidelines, regulations, or restrictions to control their public and private use. These rules include thresholds for the release of substances by facilities. If releases are above that threshold, CEPA requires that information to be reported to the NPRI. The resulting NPRI list of substances is therefore similar to CEPA’s but smaller, because not all substances on the CEPA list will meet the requirements for reporting to the NPRI.
The NPRI is made available to any and all members of the Canadian public, so that pollutants can be tracked and managed as transparently as possible. Much has changed since the NPRI was created and CEPA came into force. The number of tracked substances has steadily grown. The methods for measuring releases have improved and the resulting data are much more accurate. Similarly, as software, hardware, and networking services have become more efficient and affordable, the technology Canadians use to obtain information has improved. Above all, the Government of Canada regularly consults with Indigenous organizations and stakeholders that have an interest in this database and its contents.
What does the NPRI monitor?
The content and structure of the NPRI — and its reporting requirements in particular — have evolved significantly since it was created. Proposals for change are welcome from anyone and there are consultation and engagement processes that make it easy to do so.
The results of past consultations are readily available on the NPRI website. Proposed changes to the NPRI’s reporting requirements or thresholds are also available online, as are Canada Gazette notices of accepted changes. Should you want to offer insights or ideas of your own, please contact the NPRI.
Currently the NPRI tracks more than 300 different substances that are released into the Canadian environment. The list of substances tracked by the NPRI has been regularly updated with input from a working group. The NPRI Work Group is comprised of as many as 20 members, representing the interests of Indigenous communities and various stakeholders such as industrial associations and environmental groups. These consultations have led to some substances with identified risks being added to the list. In other cases, substances have been removed from the list, either as a result of a reduction in risk or because they are no longer being used in Canada.
- x-axis: reporting year, from 1990 to 2020
- left Y-axis: number of substances listed in the NPRI, ranging between 0 and 400. The trend is shown as a solid blue line
- right Y-axis: number of facilities reporting to the NPRI, ranging between 0 and 10,000. The trend is shown as a solid green line
The graph shows an overall increase in both reporting facilities and NPRI substances:
- the NPRI started in 1993 with 178 substances. 1,388 facilities reported the first year.
- In 1999, 73 substances were added to the list.
- In 2000, 17 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), total dioxins and furans, and hexachlorobenzene (HCB) were added to the list.
- adding 7 criteria air contaminants in 2002 and oil and gas facilities in 2003 tripled the number of facilities required to report.
- In 2006, mining extraction and crushing, 3 PAHs and 15 speciated volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were added.
- In 2007, total reduced sulfur (TRS), 9 PAHs and 17 dioxins and furans were added to the list.
- In 2014, 2 substances were added and 5 were deleted from the list.
- In 2016, 21 substances were deleted from the list.
- In 2018, 8 substances were added and 26 were deleted from the list.
- in 2019, oil and gas batteries and chrome platers were added, along with 8 substances were added and 26 substances deleted. 7,362 facilities reported that year.
Who reports to the NPRI?
The database contains information about releases, disposals and transfers by some 7,000 facilities across the country. This includes releases of gaseous materials into the air, as well as liquid or solid materials into water or land. This data is collected annually so that changes or trends can be accurately compared from one year to the next.
This map shows the NPRI reporting facilities for 2019 (7,362 facilities), excluding those that did not meet the reporting criteria (1,183 facilities).
|Newfoundland and Labrador||54|
|Prince Edward Island||11|
This table shows a provincial breakdown of the 7,362 facilities that met the 2019 NPRI reporting criteria. A total of 1,183 additional facilities reported but did not meet the criteria. For consistency, those additional facilities are not included in the calculation.
Source: Data as of February 17, 2021.
The NPRI incorporates information from a wide range of public and private facilities that generate various types of releases. This could be a major industrial installation such as a mine or heavy manufacturing site, with stacks or discharge pipes. Smaller facilities, such as medical centres or military bases, are also required to report their releases of such substances. Under CEPA, the owners of any facility in the country must report if their operation is above a certain size or if their releases meet certain thresholds. Reported substances fall into three broad categories:
- Releases, which are any discharges of reportable substances to the air, land, or water;
- Disposals, which are the final removal of reportable substances into a landfill, underground injection site, or waste pond; and
- Transfers, which are the movement of reportable substances from one facility to another for further treatment, recycling, or processing to create energy.
The NPRI tracks four main categories of releases, disposals and transfers.
Facilities can report on-site releases to air, surface waters, and land, as well as on-site disposals of pollutants.
Facilities can also report off-site disposals, and pollutants transferred off-site for recycling, energy recovery, or treatment prior to final disposal.
The operators of reporting facilities annually submit details of their releases in a specified format, just as most of us annually provide our financial information to the government using tax forms. These operators must also keep diligent records to ensure the submitted numbers are correct. The NPRI provides a comprehensive overview of how to report, as well as specific assistance and guidance to anyone responsible for reporting. These resources include sector-specific tools to calculate releases to ensure that reporting is accurate for any particular type of industrial activity.
Finally, some facilities voluntarily report releases of substances at levels that fall below the NPRI’s thresholds. This information is often provided as part of separate programs that have been established by industry in the spirit of transparency or ethical principles. One of the most prominent of these initiatives is Responsible Care, a longstanding commitment to health and safety that has been broadly adopted among chemical manufacturers around the world.
How do you obtain NPRI data?
The NPRI contains a wide range of information that can be used by different Canadians for various personal or professional reasons. For instance, an individual who is considering moving into a new neighbourhood may be curious about releases from a nearby industrial plant. A student exploring their Indigenous heritage may want to learn more about environmental conditions on traditional territory. A health care researcher studying a particular substance may ask how much of it is being released within a community of interest. Engineers at a facility that reports to the NPRI might want to compare their releases with those of similar operations elsewhere in the country.
The NPRI website features a simple search engine where users can obtain information about a particular reporting facility or substance reported. These results can also be obtained in formats other than straightforward tables, including graphical representations such as maps. This data will cover everything reported to the NPRI, but not necessarily everything that was released into the environment.
Data can be obtained from the search engine by entering criteria in several primary categories:
- Facility: You can search for a particular facility by entering the name, or even just part of the name, of a reporting facility. This could return a list of various sites, from which you can select the one of interest. Alternatively, facilities can be searched using a code number known as the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS), but this is not necessary. You can also leave this box empty, which means the search will include all facilities that report to the NPRI.
- Substance: You can search for a particular substance by entering the specific chemical name of a substance tracked by the NPRI. If, on the other hand, you want to know about all the releases from a particular facility you have already identified, leave this box blank and the search will include the entire list of substances. Any individual substance can also be searched according to a Chemical Abstracts Registry Service Number (CAS RN), but this technical information is not necessary.
- Location: This option allows you to search the database using the name of a province, part of a postal code, or the name of a major urban centre. If you want to search for smaller towns or villages, the “Community” option allows you to identify a province or territory and choose from another list.
- Industry Type: This section includes several query boxes, starting with a list of major industrial categories, such as “chemicals” or “wastewater treatment”. The box initially offers the option of “all”, which will simply retrieve all facilities in all categories. You can narrow down your search by entering a NAICS code, but this is not necessary.
- Release/Disposal Transfer Categories: If you have chosen a particular substance and are interested in how it is handled, you can make a more specific query here. The box will give you options such as “releases to water” or “total disposal: on-site” that will limit results to these kinds of releases.
- Pre-defined queries: For convenience, a selection of search results for some of the most commonly requested searches has been prepared in advance. Clicking on one of the pre-defined queries will yield products such as tables, summaries, or multi-year data sets.
When searching the database, reported releases of a particular substance may vary from year to year. The difference can be the result of new techniques for measuring releases, the adoption of new technologies that generate lower emissions, or a change in the facility’s management or operations. Any such alteration in the activities at a reporting site will alter the substance release profiles and therefore the results of the database. For additional considerations, consult the guide on using and interpreting data.
You can also obtain this information in the form of various data products, depending on how you would like to use it. For example, the NPRI offers single-year and five-year summaries of data that covers some of the most common inquiries, such as air pollution from specific industries. You can download these data sets as separate files in different formats and search each one separately, without using any other tools on the website. In the same way, you can retrieve the complete contents of the NPRI database since 1993 in a bulk format.
Depending on how much or how little information you include in a search, there may be no results returned at all. If that happens, review the format of your query to ensure that you did not overlook information that the system needs to provide you with an answer. If you run into problems, the site includes an extensive help section.
How can you use information from the NPRI?
NPRI data helps inform decisions on protecting the environment by:
- Understanding effects of pollution in Canadian ecosystems
- Studying impacts of pollution on human health
- Evaluating environmental impacts of new projects
- Monitoring changes to air and water quality
- Helping facilities reduce and prevent pollution
- Allowing Canadians to track pollutants in their communities
The NPRI is essentially an archive of environmental releases in Canada that offers a useful source of information to individuals and organizations interested in finding out about pollution in Canada. The results of an inquiry can also be presented with a variety of ready-to-go information products that analyse search results and interpret the data in specific ways, a feature called “knowledge-on-demand”.
Knowledge-on-demand can take the form of Data Highlights that provide a general overview of information from the latest reporting year. Similarly, detailed Sector and Substance Overviews, Data Integrations, as well as an Indigenous Series, provide summaries of activities in particular fields. This includes lead, the electricity sector, examples of how you can integrate NPRI to other datasets to determine the impacts of releases in particular areas of concern, such as wetlands conservation, and environmental challenges faced by Indigenous communities.
The NPRI knowledge-on-demand model can make it easier for users to understand environmental challenges facing an industry, a community or the entire country. By making information about releases publicly and easily accessible, the NPRI provides incentives for facilities to monitor their output more closely. Such data also helps the Government of Canada meet international requirements and standards, which can be essential to negotiating trade or environmental agreements. Anyone can use the NPRI to learn more about how particular substances behave in the environment, especially when this data is combined with information from other sources about the physical and chemical properties of substances.
What are the limitations of NPRI data?
While the NPRI tracks a significant number of substances that make their way into the Canadian environment, it does not capture releases from sectors where sources can be challenging to track. That includes sources of pollution described as “diffuse”, such as gases from road vehicles or farm equipment, as well as substances that originate from beyond Canada’s borders. Nor does the NPRI capture all the substances released by a specific facility, if those substances are not listed or if particular releases fall below necessary reporting thresholds.
Nevertheless, some of this information can be found in other ECCC inventories including:
In addition, since the database only contains information reported by facilities, the data only encompasses substances manufactured, processed or otherwise used, as opposed to any naturally occurring ones. NPRI data does not lend itself to location-based pollution, such as monitoring air quality. That level of interpretation requires additional information, such as measurements by air quality monitoring stations, which are not included here but can be found as part of a different Government of Canada program.
Finally, some substances contained in the NPRI list will not be reported if the quantities released fall below the reporting threshold. This threshold refers to the total amount of that substance manufactured, processed, or used in any other way at a facility during the course of a calendar year. This threshold varies from one substance to another, as can be seen in this substance list by threshold.
The NPRI and you: to find out what pollutants are being released in your community, or if you are interested in digging deeper, you can search by postal code or download complete datasets at Canada.ca/NPRI.
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