Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory: data highlights 2019
The National Pollutant Release Inventory’s (NPRI) data helps track pollution patterns and trends across Canada. Since 1993, it has collected data from facilities about pollution they release to the air, water or land. The NPRI also collects data about the disposal and transfer of pollutants. Facilities that meet the reporting requirements must report each year.
2019 data at a glance
In 2019, 7,362 facilities reported to the NPRI. They reported approximately 4.89 million tonnes covering over 320 substances:
- 2.94 million tonnes of pollutants were released directly to the environment (i.e., air, water and land)
- 1.57 million tonnes were disposed to landfills, applied to land or injected underground, either on the facility site or off-site
- 379,185 tonnes were transferred off the facility site for treatment prior to final disposal or for recycling and energy recovery
|Direct releases category||Reported quantities (tonnes)|
|Unspecified media (less than one tonne)||315|
|Total reported releases||2,940,163|
|Disposals and transfers category||Reported quantities (tonnes)|
|Treatment prior to disposal||52,070|
|Transfers for off-site recycling||327,116
|Total reported disposals and transfers||1,950,249|
Total quantities reported to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI): 4,890,412 tonnes
Source: NPRI Data as of February 17, 2021.
Between 2010 and 2019, reported releases to the environment decreased by 656,088 tonnes. Total disposals and transfers increased by 24,945 tonnes in that same period.
Most of the total pollutants that were released directly to the environment were released to the air. These substances totaled over 2.783 million tonnes of air pollutant emissions and included 153 different substances.
The pollutants most often released were particulate matter, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide, which are associated with smog and acid rain. The oil and gas extraction and the alumina and aluminum production and processing sectors released the highest quantities of pollutants to the atmosphere.
Between 2010 and 2019, releases to air decreased by 666,178 tonnes (19%).
A total of approximately 139,599 tonnes was released to water in 2019, and included 86 different substances.
The pollutants most often released to water were nitrate ion solutions, ammonia and phosphorus, primarily from wastewater treatment facilities. The water, sewage and other systems reported the highest quantities of pollutant releases to water.
Between 2010 and 2019, releases to water increased by 20,248 tonnes (17%).
A total of 17,188 tonnes was released to land in 2019, and included 59 different substances.
The pollutant most often released to land was ethylene glycol, which is used as an antifreeze and de-icer for cars and aircrafts. As such, the support activities for air transportation sector released the highest quantities of pollutants to land.
Between 2010 and 2019, releases to land increased by 6,012 tonnes (54%). This is likely due to harsher weather conditions during winter, resulting in increased use of antifreeze and de-icers.
In some instances, Canadian facilities reported releases of substances (i.e., unspecified media) where the total release quantity was less than one tonne.
Between 2010 and 2019, these types of releases increased by 130 tonnes (70%).
Disposals and transfers for recycling
Of the 4.89 million tonnes reported in 2019, substance disposals (i.e., on-site and off-site) and transfers for recycling accounted for approximately 1.95 million tonnes, or 40%.
While the disposal of waste rock (i.e., rock removed to reach ore) accounts for 289,904 tonnes of the 4.89 million tonnes reported to the NPRI, this figure increased by 272,470 tonnes (1,563%) between 2010 and 2019. This is mainly due to higher reported quantities of waste rock from the mining and quarrying sector.
The disposal of tailings (i.e., materials left when minerals are removed from ore) accounted for 821,905 tonnes of the 4.89 million tonnes reported to the NPRI. Between 2010 and 2019, disposals of tailings has increased by 149,329 tonnes (22%). This was also due to higher reported quantities of tailings from the mining and quarrying sector.
Other disposals (i.e., on-site and off-site) accounted for 350,234 tonnes and 109,021 tonnes of the 4.89 million tonnes reported, respectively. On-site disposals increased by 100,575 tonnes (40%) between 2010 and 2019, while off-site disposals decreased by 609,872 tonnes (85%) over the same period.
Off-site transfers for recycling and treatment accounted for 379,185 tonnes of the 4.89 million tonnes reported in 2019. Between 2010 and 2019, this figure has decreased by 60,710 tonnes (14%).
Note: In some cases, adding quantities of a substance transferred off-site (e.g., to specialized waste management facilities) to quantities of that substance disposed of (e.g., by the waste management facility) can lead to double counting. This may occur when a substance is generated at one site, then transferred to another site for waste treatment prior to disposal, and subsequently transferred to a final disposal site. In this case, double- or triple-counting of the original off-site transfer may occur if aggregating reports from the several facilities involved in the waste management process of a single quantity of substance. For more information, please visit our Guide for using and interpreting National Pollutant Release Inventory data.
In 2019, most of the 7,362 facilities reporting to the NPRI were in Alberta (3,029) and Ontario (1,691).
The majority of facilities in Alberta were from the oil and gas sector (shown in yellow on the map below).
In Ontario, most of the reporting facilities were from the manufacturing sector (shown in blue on the map below).
Map of facilities reporting to the NPRI for 2019, by industry sector
|Province/Territory||Electricity||Manufacturing||Mining and quarrying||Oil and gas extraction||Other sectors||Total|
|Newfoundland & Labrador||17||9
|Prince Edward Island||2
This table shows the 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: NPRI Data as of February 17, 2021.
Note: This map shows the NPRI reporting facilities for 2019 (7,362 facilities), excluding those that did not meet the reporting criteria (1,183 facilities).
Pollution prevention plans
Pollution prevention involves identifying the causes of waste and pollution and finding ways to minimize them. A facility’s pollution prevention plan includes an examination of current operations and steps to eliminate or reduce pollution at its source.
In 2019, 1,060Footnote 1 reporting facilities had pollution prevention plans in place. Of these plans:
- 713 were prepared voluntarily
- 326 were prepared to meet the requirements of provincial or territorial governments
- 61 were prepared to meet the requirements of a notice under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (e.g., the pollution prevention planning notice for toluene diisocyanates)
Most of the pollution prevention plans (745) targeted harmful substances, such as mercury, lead, and nitrogen oxides.
Pollution prevention activities
3,152 facilities (that is, 42% of reporting facilities) reported 5,318 pollution prevention activities.
There are seven main categories of activities that facilities can carry out to prevent pollution. In 2019, the most common activity category was “Training and good operating practices”, with 2,463 activities completed. In second place was the “Spill and leak prevention” category, with 914 activities carried out.
Activities reported for 2019, by industry sector
|Pollution prevention activity category||Number of activities implemented by facilities|
Spill and leak prevention
Product design or reformulation
Other pollution prevention activities
On-site recovery, re-use or recycling
Materials or feedstock substitution
Inventory management or purchasing techniques
Good operating practices or training
Equipment or process modifications
Source: Data as of January 5, 202`1.
For examples of how reporting facilities have previously implemented actions within each of these categories, see How to green your business by preventing pollution.
The remaining 4,300 facilities (58% of reporting facilities) declared not having implemented activities in the 2019 reporting year. Barriers to implementation included:
- Unknown or unavailable alternatives (1180 facilities);
- Additional activities being unnecessary of unfeasible at this time (1006 facilities);
- Insufficient capital (300 facilities);
- Concern that product quality may decline as a result of activities (115 facilities);
- Insufficient understanding of pollution prevention (114 facilities);
- Other reasons (1205 facilities).
We invite you to contact the National Pollutant Release Inventory by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information or if you have any questions on the data.
Access NPRI data
Source: NPRI Data as of February 17, 2021
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