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Reducing impacts of harmful substances

Target 2.3: Chemicals management – Reduce risks to Canadians and impacts on the environment posed by harmful substances as a result of decreased environmental concentrations and human exposure to such substances.

Compared to 1990, mercury emissions to air in 2010 had decreased by 87% (30.3 tonnes). Since 2005, there has been a decline in hexavalent chromium emissions to air (70% reduction or 2.3 tonnes).

 

Baseline levels for Substances of Concern will be set in 2012–2013 based on data released in 2011–2012, which was collected in Cycle 1 of the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS).

From 2007 to 2009, the level of exposure to mercury was 0.69 micrograms (μg) per litre (L) of blood, and exposure to lead was 13.4 μg/L of blood. The level of exposure to cadmium was 0.35 μg/L of blood, and to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE-47) was 0.06 μg/L of blood plasma. The biomonitoring data for the Canadian population, collected as part of Cycle 1 of the CHMS , is important in establishing baseline levels of chemicals in the Canadian population to enable the tracking of trends in exposures over time.

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 requires that every new substance made in Canada or imported from other countries since 1994 be assessed against specific criteria to evaluate the risk they may pose to human health or the environment. However, many chemical substances already in use in Canada prior to this had not been assessed, but grandfathered in and added to the Domestic Substances List (DSL). The 23,000 substances on the DSL then underwent a categorization process, whereby 4,300 substances requiring further attention were identified.

Since the launch of the Chemicals Management Plan in 2006, the government has worked closely with health and environment groups, consumer groups and industry to reduce risks to Canadians and the environment by setting clear priorities for the assessment and management of hundreds of chemicals. This integrated approach has allowed the government to address various routes of exposure to harmful substances by using the most appropriate management tools among a full suite of federal laws. Research and monitoring programs have also been integrated across departments so that efforts are focused on the highest priority work. As substances are assessed and tools for risk management actions are developed and taken, monitoring data will become available that will reflect progress in managing risks. This is an iterative and long-term process.

At the regional level, Canadian interests were represented at the Commission for Environmental Cooperation to address chemicals management. Globally, Canada worked with partners such as the European Chemicals Agency, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and through the Stockholm Convention and the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. These engagements are critical to increase efficiencies so that foreign deposition of harmful substances can be reduced.

For additional information on the implementation strategies that support this target, please consult the following websites: Environment Canada, Health Canada, National Research Council Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

Progress Towards Target 2.3: Canadian releases of selected controlled substances

Compared to 1990, mercury emissions to air in 2010 had decreased by 87% (30.3 t). Since 2005, there has been a decline in hexavalent chromium emissions to air (70% reduction or 2.3 t).

In 2010, national mercury emissions totalled 4.7 t -- an 18% (about 1.0 t) decrease from 2009 levels, as illustrated in Figure 2.10. The large decline in emissions since the 1990s is principally due to the adoption of various emission-reduction technologies in the non-ferrous smelting and refining sector, the closing of certain facilities, and compliance with federal and provincial legislation and guidelines introduced over that period. Emission reductions from improvements in fossil fuel-fired electricity generation and incineration also contributed to the decline.

Figure 2.10: Mercury emissions to air, Canada, 1990 to 2010

Mercury emissions to air, Canada, 1990 to 2010

Long description

The line chart shows the amount of mercury emitted to the air in Canada between 1990 and 2010. In 2010, national mercury emissions decreased by 18% (about 1.0 tonnes) from 2009 levels. Mercury emissions in 2010 were 87% or 30.3 tonnes lower than 1990 levels, the baseline year of our time series. The large decline in emissions since the 1990s is principally due to the adoption of various emission-reduction technologies in the non-ferrous smelting and refining industry, the closing of certain facilities, and compliance with federal and provincial legislation and guidelines introduced over that period. Emission reductions from improvements in fossil fuel-fired electricity generation and incineration also contributed to the decline.

In 2005, global mercury emissions to air from human activity were estimated to be 1 930 t. China contributed 42.8% (825.2 t) of the total, followed by India with 8.9% (171.9 t), and the United States with 6.1% (118.4 t). Canada emitted 6.2 t, which corresponded to 0.3% of the global mercury emissions to air in 2005.

Releases of hexavalent chromium from major emitting facilities in 2010 were 1.0 t (or 15%) lower than in 2009. This can be attributed to emission reductions in the Canadian manufacture of aerospace products and parts and glass and glass products. Figure 2.11 illustrates the downward trend in hexavalent chromium since 2005.

For the most up-to-date information on these indicators, please visit CESI (mercury, hexavalent chromium).

Figure 2.11: Hexavalent chromium emissions to air, Canada, 2003 to 2010

Hexavalent chromium emissions to air, Canada, 2003 to 2010

Long description

The line chart shows the amount of hexavalent chromium emitted to the air in Canada between 2003 and 2010. Emissions of hexavalent chromium in 2010 were 1.0 tonne or 15% lower than in 2009, and 63% lower than in 2003.

Progress towards Target 2.3: Levels of exposure to substances of concern by substance

In August 2010, the government published its Report on Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals in Canada, which presents the first-ever comprehensive set of biomonitoring data for the Canadian population. In addition to establishing baseline levels of chemicals in the Canadian population, this 2010 report is important in advancing health surveillance and research, and assessing the effectiveness of actions by government and others in Canada.

Biomonitoring estimates how much of a chemical is present in a person, but the presence does not necessarily mean that it will cause a health effect. Factors such as the dose, the duration and timing of exposure, and the toxicity of the chemical are important in determining whether adverse health effects may occur.

Baseline levels for substances of concern will be set in 2012–2013, based on data released in 2011–2012, which was collected in Cycle 1 of the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS).

From 2007 to 2009, the level of exposure to mercury was 0.69 micrograms (μg) per litre (L) of blood), and exposure to lead was 13.4 μg/L of blood. The level of exposure to cadmium was 0.35 μg/L of blood, and to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE-47) was 0.06 μg/L of blood plasma. The biomonitoring data for the Canadian population, collected as part of Cycle 1 of the CHMS, is important in establishing baseline levels of chemicals in the Canadian population to enable the tracking of trends in exposures over time.

Table 2.3 displays mercury, lead, cadmium and polybrominated diphenyl ether cogener 47 (PBDE-47) concentrations in blood and blood plasma from 2007 to 2009.

For the most up-to-date information on this indicator, please visit CESI.

Table 2.3: Mercury, lead, cadmium and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE-47) concentrations in blood and blood plasma, Canada, 2007-2009
(micrograms per litre)
ChemicalsBlood (µg/L)Blood plasma (µg/L )
Mercury0.69
Lead13.4
Cadmium0.35
PBDE-470.06

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