Health Canada's participation in environmental assessments

Health Canada's Role in Environmental Assessments

Health Canada is the federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health. One of the ways this is accomplished is through participation in Government-wide initiatives, including the federal regulatory review of major resource and infrastructure projects. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) provides the basis for Health Canada's legislated role in environmental assessments (EA) as a federal authority. Depending on the type and location of the proposed project, EA reviews are commonly conducted by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board, or the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (the Responsible Authorities [RAs] under CEAA 2012), or by appointed Review Panels.

As a federal authority, Health Canada provides its expertise to the RA, Review Panel or other jurisdiction conducting the federal EA, which subsequently determines how this information will be used in its evaluation of the project. Health Canada does not approve or issue licences, permits or authorizations in relation to the EA of a development project. The RA or the Minister of the Environment decides whether the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, taking into account the implementation of any mitigation measures considered appropriate, before rendering a decision statement on the project. If a project is determined to be likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, the Governor in Council determines if these effects are justified in the circumstances.

The key objective of Health Canada's EA program is to prevent, reduce and mitigate the potential effects of any change to the environment (such as exposure to contaminants through air, water or country foods) on the health of Aboriginal peoples -- and when federal authorities exercise a power, or perform a duty or function under another Act -- on the health of the general Canadian population (see CEAA 2012, paragraph 5(2)(b)). Upon the request of an RA, Review Panel or other jurisdiction conducting an EA authorized under CEAA 2012, Health Canada makes available specialist or expert information and knowledge on human health issues related to the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project.

Health Canada also provides information to the RAs to assist in their analysis of impacts that may affect potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights. This support role is advisory only and Health Canada does not make a determination in respect to potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights.

Health Canada's Areas of Expertise for Environmental Assessments

Health Canada reviews EA documentation on a project-specific basis, examining the baseline assessment and predicted environmental impacts of a project that may affect human health through multiple pathways of exposure. Health Canada provides comments on the potential impacts to human health that may be identified and assesses the results of any relevant modeling presented by a proponent (but does not validate the predicted future contaminant levels in air, water or country foods).

Health Canada may consider the following aspects when participating in EA reviews:

  • The appropriateness of methodologies used.
  • The predicted health impacts and any comparisons to health-based guidelines and standards.
  • The measures proposed to mitigate human health impacts.
  • The conclusions made concerning human health effects and the accompanying rationales or justifications.
  • The evidence provided to justify the conclusions and the scientific defensibility of the rationales for the conclusions regarding potential effects to human health.

As a federal authority, Health Canada currently makes available information in the areas described in the table below. All elements may not be applicable to every EA.

Environmental Assessments
Area of Expertise Key Elements


Footnote 1

For proposed projects with potential radiological impacts Health Canada considers impacts to the health of all Canadians.

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Footnote 2

Health Canada does not have noise guidelines or enforceable noise thresholds or standards.

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Footnote 3

At present, there are no national guidelines for EMF at extremely low frequencies in Canada.

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Human health
risk assessment (HHRA)
Single and multi-media HHRAs; exposure scenarios; toxicological reference values (TRVs); methodologies and calculations; rationales for selection and use of the above throughout the HHRA.
Air quality Potential contaminants in ambient air, with reference to health-based evaluation tools, guidelines and toxicological reference values.
Country foods Potential contaminants in country foods considering the type, amount and frequency of foods consumed.
Drinking and recreational water quality Changes (physical or chemical) to source waters that are used for drinking water, and/or
to recreational waters, with reference to Canadian and/or provincial guidelines or standards.
Radiological impacts Footnote 1 Exposure to radiological parameters in air, water, soil, dust and foods, considering the potential impacts of predicted ionizing radiation doses on both nuclear energy workers (increased exposure) and the public during all phases of the project.
Noise Footnote 2 Characterization of noise, exposure, and health endpoints, with reference to internationally-recognized standards for acoustics.
Electric and magnetic fields (EMF) Footnote 3 Consideration of the state of scientific knowledge regarding the possible health effects of exposure to EMF.

Questions or comments related to the information above may be directed to:
Environmental Assessment Program,
Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch, Health Canada, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K9

Additional information
To learn about CEAA 2012 and federal environmental assessment, refer to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's website.

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