National Pollutant Release Inventory: ammonia

Every year, certain facilities across Canada must report the pollutants they release into the air, water and land, as well as pollutants disposed and transferred, to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). The information collected is publicly available, and can help governments set environmental priorities and monitor environmental performance. Canadians can also use this information to learn about pollution in their environment.

This substance overview explores total ammonia released, disposed of and transferred by various industries in Canada. It also summarizes what facilities do to mitigate their environmental impacts.

Ammonia

Ammonia is a colorless gas with a pungent odor. the NPRI Tracks two forms of ammonia:

The NPRI reporting system does not differentiate between the individual forms and they are expressed as total ammonia.
 
The primary human use of ammonia is as a nitrogen source in fertilizers. Ammonia is used in a number of industrial applications, as a refrigerant gas or as an intermediate for the manufacture of plastics, textiles, dyes and other chemicals. Ammonia is also a naturally occuring compount required by most organisms for protein synthesis and a waste product of animal, fish, and microbial metabolism. Ammonia is released into the environment by many industries and human activities.
 
One of the major sources of ammonia released to water reported to the NPRI are wastewater treatment plants, which collect and treat domestic, commercial, instutitional and industrial effluent in varying proportions. The main direct industrial releases to water reported to the NPRI come form:
The major quantifiable sources of ammonia releaes to air that are reported to the NPRI include:
Total ammonia releases by sector reported to the NPRI in 2019
Total ammonia releases by sector reported to the NPRI in 2019
Long Description

Map showing total ammonia releases by sector reported to the NPRI in 2019. The map is broken down by sector and includes the following sectors: Chemicals, Cement, Lime and Other Non-Metallic Minerals, Conventional Oil and Gas extraction, Electricity, Iron and Steel, Metals(Except Aluminum and Iron and Steel), Mining and Quarrying, Non-Conventional Oil Extraction (including Oil sand and Heavy Oil), Oil and Gas Pipelines and Storage, Other (Except Manufacturing), Petroleum and Coal Product Refining and Manufacturing, Pulp and Paper, Transportations Equipment Manufacturing, Waste Treatment and Disposal, Water and Wastewater Systems, and Wood Products and Other Manufacturing.

You can find the data used to create this map using our single year data tables.

Effects on human health

Exposure to Ammonia can have significant impacts on human health, including:

Ammonia (NH3) is toxic if inhaled in large quantities. Ammonium (NH4+) is a nontoxic salt but can be transformed into NH3 when pH (acidic) levels rise. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) provide an easy-to-read factsheet on the effects of ammonia in the workplace and prevention/precaution measures to take when handling ammonia.

Effects on the environment

Ammonia released to water, even in small quantities or concentrations, may be harmful to fish and other aquatic species. Aquatic organisms exposed to ammonia find it difficult to excrete the toxins going into their tissue and blood. Over time, this can be lethal. Also, most fish species can only tolerate high concentrations of unionized ammonia over a period of hours before death occurs.

When ammonia is released to the air in large amounts,it can have an effect on the surrounding areas such as plants and crops where it burns the leaves. However, it does not typically affect the roots so most plants will recover. Ammonia also has a toxic effect on livestock that is nearby from the releases and may be poisonous to animals nearby. This toxic effect is also present when ammonia is released to land as it can lead to high soil acidification which is the increase in acidity in the soil.

Reporting facilities

440 facilities reported releases of ammonia to the NPRI in 2019. These covered several different sectors, most notably Water and Wastewater Systems (159 facilities). Other sectors include Chemicals and Other Manufacturing, with 40 and 43 facilities respectively. In the map to the right, you can view the locations of facilities that reported ammonia releases to the NPRI in 2019.

Location of NPRI facilties that reported ammonia releases in 2019

Location of NPRI facilities that reported ammonia releases in 2019
Long Description

Map showing the locations of NPRI facilities that reported ammonia release in 2019. Each green dot represents a facility.

You can find the data used to create this map using our single year data tables.

Total releases

Over 69,400 tonnes of ammonia releases to air, water and land were reported to the NPRI in 2019. The majority (approximately 50,400 tonnes) were released to water in 2019, mostly from the Water and Wastewater Systems sector (47,500 tonnes). The graph below shows the breakdown of Ammonia by release type reported to the NPRI in 2019. The releases tracked by the NPRI are controlled releases. There are environmental emergency regulations put in place to track uncontrolled and accidental releases.

Total Ammonia releaes by media type 2019
Long Description

Total ammonia releases by media type for 2019

Release Type
Quantity (tonnes)
Total Water
50,423
Total Air
18,571
Total Land
398
Total All Media<1t
11

Ammonia releases have stayed relatively stable for the last 5 years for all release types, (see graph below). The only significant change is in the releases to land reported between 2015 and 2016. During this period, ammonia releases to land decreased by more than 50%. This drop was due to a facility that released high amounts to land in 2015 instead disposed of the ammonia in 2016, as well as a waste management facility reducing its leachate (leaking of ammonia from various waste materials to land) in 2015. Some waste products that contain ammonia are cleaning products such as bathroom cleaners, glass cleaners and drain cleaners.

Total releaes of ammonia from 2015 to 2019 (tonnes)
Long Description

Total releases of ammonia from 2015 to 2019 (tonnes)

Year Total Land Total Air
Total Water Total All Releases
2015 1,001 16,686 45,790 63,486
2016
489
17,233 45,835 63,570
2017 402
17,426 45,539 63,380
2018 422
18,406 47,451 66,291
2019 398
18,571 50,423 69,402

Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec are the highest emitting provinces in Canada with the largest total releases of Ammonia in 2019 (see graph below). This is largely due to the high amount of facilities that are reporting to the NPRI from those provinces most notably wastewater facilities.

Total releases by province for 2019 (tonnes)
Long Description

Total releases by province for 2019

Province Total Releases (tonnes)
Quebec 17,298
British Columbia
16,644
Ontario 13,807
Alberta 10,496
Manitoba 5,186
Nova Scotia
2,042
Saskatchewan 1,502
New Brunswick 1,195
Newfoundland and Labrador
1,1912
Prince Edward Island
38
Nunavut 2
Northwest Territories 0

Government actions

  1. The Environmental Emergency (E2) Regulations 2019 made under Part 8 in CEPA, 1999 aim to help reduce the frequency and severity of accidental releases of hazardous substances into the environment that occur at fixed facilities across Canada. Anhydrous ammonia and ammonia solution (Ammonium hydroxide) were both assessed by E2 program and found toxic by inhalation and added to the list of substances in Schedule 1 of the E2 regulations. Any person who owns, has the charge, management or control of any of these substances at or above threshold concentration along with quantity or container capacity, must notify ECCC. Higher-risk facilities will also have to prepare and exercise an environmental emergency plan when they meet some criteria. If any release of a quantity of ammonia is considered an environmental emergency under section 18 of the regulations then this release must be reported to ECCC and a written report should be sent to enforcement directorate of ECCC
  2. Risks associated with ammonia releases in wastewater effluent are managed through the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations, made under the Fisheries Act. In order to reduce the threats to fish, fish habitat and human health from fish consumption, these regulations set national baseline effluent quality standards achievable through secondary treatment or equivalent. The deleterious substances specified under the Regulations include un-ionized ammonia, which is limited to a maximum concentration of 1.25 mg/L, expressed as nitrogen (N), at 15°C ± 1°C. In addition, the effluent released must not be acutely lethal to fish. The Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations require systems that deposit more that 2,500 cubic metres of effluent a day to conduct acute lethality testing. Other resources are made available to owners and operators of wastewater systems including the manual on The Treatment Processes for the Removal of Ammonia from Municipal Wastewater which is intended to serve as a reference and decision-support tool”
  3. The Metal and Diamond Mining Effluent Regulations establish a limit on the concentration of un-ionized ammonia in mine effluent, which will come into force on June 1, 2021. Ammonia concentrations in mine effluent can result from the use of explosives, from its use as a reagent in ore processing at some mines, and also as a by-product of processing at others. The expected reduction in concentrations of un-ionized ammonia in receiving waters is expected to reduce negative effects of effluent on fish and fish habitat. As a non-regulatory measure, there is also the Environmental Code of Practice: The Environmental Code of Practice for Metal Mines provides several recommendations for preventing and controlling ammonia pollution. Those recommendations are applicable to the environmental management practices for the planning and construction phase of mine development and for the mine operations phase

Pollution prevention activities

Facilities can implement a number of activities to prevent pollution and waste at the source. Examples of pollution prevention (P2) activities that facilities have used to target ammonia releases include:

Pollution in your neighbourhood

We invite you to visit the NPRI web page and explore the various data products available there to find information on facilities and pollutants in your community.

You can identify the facilities and pollutants in your community by exploring the various data products located on the NPRI webpage. For further analysis, check out other NPRI maps and datasets. You can also use NPRI data to do your own analysis.

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