National Pollutant Release Inventory Indigenous Series: Nunavik

A number of businesses, institutions and other facilities across Canada must report their air, water and land pollutants annually to the Government of Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). The information collected is public and helps Canadians learn about pollution in their surroundings. It is also used to set environmental priorities and monitor environmental performance.

The National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) Indigenous Series highlights environmental challenges faced by Inuit and First Nations communities in Québec that are located in close proximity to facilities that report to the NPRI. The purpose of this series is to initiate discussions amongst affected groups, researchers and policy-makers about the sources and impacts of pollution in Indigenous communities across Canada.  Differences in the content of each series reflect the knowledge, concerns and priorities identified by the regional organizations on behalf of the 57 communities they serve.

The NPRI Indigenous Series intends to serve as an informational overview, within the scope of the NPRI and the substances it tracks. It is not an exhaustive inventory of all that is occurring on Indigenous territories, nor all the pollutants that are released in and around communities. Instead, it is a starting point for future analyses, engagement and improvements. Links to external sources are used in the document solely to provide information that is relevant to the identified pollutants and concerns, but not covered by the NPRI.

NPRI Indigenous Community Series: Nunavik

Developed with input from the Kativik Regional Government, this specific overview examines facilities located in Nunavik region of Québec and the pollutants they report to the NPRI. It also examines NPRI substances and sectors of interest to Inuit and where applicable, Naskapi and Cree in Nunavik, as well as the actions taken by facilities to mitigate environmental impacts.

Overviews of pollutants released near First Nations and Cree communities are also available.

Map of northern Québec, and the land categories and boundaries defined in the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement

Map of northern Québec, and the land categories and boundaries defined in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement
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Legend - Map of northern Québec, and the land categories and boundaries defined in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement

The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement

The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement (JBNQA) was signed on November 11, 1975 by Cree and Inuit representatives, the Government of Canada, the Government of Québec, the James Bay Energy Corporation, the James Bay Development Corporation, and Hydro-Québec. It was the first comprehensive land claim agreement in Canada.

Sections 22 and 23 of the JBNQA set out an environmental and social protection regime for the territorial regions of James Bay and Nunavik. Moreover, the agreement recognizes Indigenous rights, includes self-government components, and lays the foundations for a new relationship between the Cree, the Inuit, the Government of Québec and the Government of Canada. More specifically, rights in areas such as resource management, economic development, education, and health and social services were defined under the agreement. Since signing the JBNQA, the Cree have signed several federal and provincial agreements regarding self-governance.

Pursuant to the JBNQA, the following entities were created:

In a complementary agreement (No. 1) to the JBNQA, the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach is recognized.

Learn more about the JBNQA and treaty implementation, and about treaty relationships and Indigenous rights.

The NPRI and small or remote communities

Exposure to pollution varies across demographic and socioeconomic groups, as well as across geographic regions (for example, urban versus rural). While small and remote communities across Canada are located away from industrial centres, pollution is transported through water, air and soil, and can negatively effect water and air quality in distant locations.

NPRI data alone is not enough to assess the risks and impacts of pollution on human health and the environment. Each substance has distinct physical and chemical properties, and varies in toxicity. As a result, environmental and health impacts will vary between substances and environments. To assess risk, other factors that must be considered include:

To pursue advanced analyses in this area, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) data on environmental indicators can be linked to NPRI data.

Nunavik: “the land”

The region of Nunavik is located north of the 55th parallel in Québec and occupies approximately one third of the province’s surface area. Nunavik is home to about 14,000 permanent residents, nearly 90% of whom are Inuit. The Inuit of Nunavik live in 14 communities along the coasts of eastern Hudson Bay, southern Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay.

Inuktitut is the first language of Nunavik’s residents, but French and English are also used outside the home.

Location of Inuit communities

Location of Inuit communities
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Legend - Location of Inuit communities

Facilities in the region

In Nunavik, 17 facilities reported to the NPRI in 2018. The requirement to report to the NPRI depends on several criteria, including the size of the facility and the activities it carries out. Of the facilities that reported, three are from the mining sector and 14 are from the electricity sector. Of the total amount of pollutants reported in the region, 16,767 tonnes (92%) were reported by the mining sector and 1,526 tonnes (8%) were reported by the electricity sector.

The majority of reporting facilities are in the electricity sector because remote and northern communities, such as those in Nunavik, are not connected to power grids. Therefore, each community requires a diesel power plant for electricity generation. Diesel generators have larger environmental footprints than other electricity facilities and may negatively impact air quality and human health.

There are three metal ore mining facilities operating in the Nunavik region, including two nickel mines and one iron ore mine. The quantities of metals and minerals mined varies greatly from year to year as market values and demand fluctuate. As such, the quantities of pollutants reported to the NPRI will vary with production rates.

The two nickel mines operate between the communities of Salluit and Kangiqsujuaq. The one iron ore mine is located on the southeastern border of Nunavik and operates in both the provinces of Québec and Newfoundland and Labrador. The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services contributes to environmental and social impact evaluations of projects on its territory, including those in the mining sector. One facility outside of Nunavik has been included in this overview to reflect its proximity to the region, and the potential impacts that extend beyond provincial borders.

Facilities that previously operated in the Nunavik region, but are no longer active, include three oil and gas terminals, one electricity generating station, and one iron ore mine.

Location of NPRI facilities reporting in Nunavik in 2018

Location of NPRI facilities reporting in Nunavik in 2018
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Legend - Location of NPRI facilities reporting in Nunavik in 2018

Substances in the region

In 2018, facilities in Nunavik reported releases of substances from two sectors: electricity and mining.

The substances reported by the electricity sector are:

Diesel generators also produce black carbon as a common by-product of combustion. Black carbon is a short-lived air pollutant that contributes to climate change and adverse health effects. For more information, view our electricity sector overview or ECCC’s Black Carbon Inventory.

Metal ore mines report a number of substances to the NPRI. In 2018, the substances reported in the highest quantities from this sector were:

The mining sector releases pollutants directly to air from various activities, including:

According to NPRI data, the majority of substances were reported as on-site disposals to tailings management areas (50%) followed by stack and point releases to air (38%). Releases of PM from road dust (18% of total air releases in 2018) are included in quantities reported by the mines to reflect the scope of communities’ exposure to sources of PM.

Substances will have varying effects on the environment depending on whether they are released to air, water or land, and how they move through the environment once released. For tips on how to use and understand NPRI data, see our guide on Using and Interpreting NPRI Data.

Total quantity of the substances released in the highest quantities in 2018

Total quantity of the substances released in the highest quantities in 2018
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Legend - Total quantity of the substances released in the highest quantities in 2018

Regional concerns: abandoned sites

Abandoned mineral exploration sites, some of which require major rehabilitation, are a continuing concern due to their effect on communities across the region.

Since the signing of the JBNQA in 1975, stricter guidelines require the rehabilitation of closed mineral exploration sites. However, when mining companies began operating in Nunavik in the 1950s, few regulations existed to monitor and guide social and environmental impacts. Considering Inuit and Naskapi concerns and impacts on the environment, a joint project to identify and clean up abandoned sites began in 1999.

In 2001-2002, the Kativik Regional Government and Makivik Corporation assessed 193 possible abandoned mineral exploration sites. The final report indicated that of the 90 abandoned sites, 18 required major cleanup work. As of September 2017, sites requiring major work have been cleaned, and work on sites requiring intermediate cleanup is ongoing.

Recognizing the need for action on abandoned sites, the mining industry in Nunavik created the Fonds Restor-Action Nunavik (FRAN) in 2007. In agreement with the Kativik Regional Government, Makivik Corporation, and the provincial Energy and Natural Resources (MERN), cleanup and rehabilitation work is ongoing. Materials removed from abandoned sites typically include buildings, transportation equipment (i.e. air, land, water), fuel and oil, and debris.

The map below shows the 18 abandoned sites that required major cleanup, and mining facilities that reported to the NPRI in 2018.

Contamination at abandoned sites remains an important concern across the region, as improperly stored toxic substances and degraded soil may have adverse impacts on wildlife, water, vegetation and the diet of Inuit. The current phase of cleanup, focused on newly identified sites, will continue until March 2022.

For a complete list of abandoned sites, waste removed, and additional details, see the Rehabilitation of Abandoned Mineral Exploration Sites 2018-2019 Activity Report (PDF). Site location and information retrieved from Table 1 in the 2018-2019 Activity Report.

Map of mining facilities in 2018 and federal abandoned sites

Map of mining facilities in 2018 and federal abandoned sites
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Legend - Map of mining facilities in 2018 and federal abandoned sites

Community concerns: diesel generators

Within Nunavik, there are also concerns at the community scale, including about contamination related to diesel generators. Nunavik and other northern regions are “off-grid”, meaning they are neither connected to the North American electrical grid nor the natural gas network. Instead, communities rely on diesel-fired generators for electricity.  According to NPRI data, nitrogen oxides were released in the highest quantity from diesel-fired electricity facilities in 2018 (1,337 tonnes).

Inuit living in off-grid communities face numerous environmental, social and economic concerns related to energy including:

Hydro-Québec, in collaboration with regional entities, is presently examining alternative energy sources, including wind, solar and small-scale hydroelectric projects. For example, a mine in the region has integrated two wind turbines into its electrical grid since 2014. Together, the turbines are forecasted to produce about 10% of the mine’s total energy and save 4.4 million litres of diesel fuel annually.

Other challenges faced by communities in Nunavik include open burning and leaching from landfills, as well as contaminants in lakes. Further analysis of these issues is required to assess environmental and social impacts on Inuit.

For more information and resources on environment-related health impacts, visit the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services website.

Releases from electricity facilities in 2018

Releases from electricity facilities in 2018
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Legend - Releases from electricity facilities in 2018

Federal initiatives

Communities in Nunavik are involved in the Government of Canada’s Northern Contaminants Program (NCP). The NCP was established in 1991 to engage northerners and scientists in researching and monitoring contaminants in the Canadian Arctic that are increasingly found in the food chain. This research can be used to assess human and ecosystem health, and to create policies that eliminate or reduce contaminants. The NCP funds various collaborative projects each year that prioritize:

Through the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the Government of Canada has two core programs that work directly with project leads and communities to support their transition toward more secure, affordable and clean energy:

Federal investment in clean energy to reduce reliance on diesel is a vital link to energy security, reconciliation and self-determination for Indigenous peoples. For more information on these programs, visit the Green Infrastructure Programs website.

Pollution in your community

NPRI data can be used by communities across Canada, including those in northern and remote regions, to:

For further analysis, check out other NPRI maps and datasets. Learn more about pollution prevention and how individuals and facilities can help protect the environment.

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