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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Where does PollutionWatch get its data?
  2. What isn't in the data?
  3. What are greenhouse gases and how do they relate to global climate change?
  4. What is a Criteria Air Contaminant (CAC)?
  5. How does PollutionWatch data relate to environmental problems such as smog, climate change, and thinning of the ozone layer?
  6. What's the difference between releases and transfers?
  7. Why does PollutionWatch add all of the pollutants reported to NPRI together?
  8. Are releases and transfers reported to NPRI harmful to my health?
  9. Why might a facility's pollution data go up or down from year to year?
  10. Why aren't changes in production taken into account in the data?
  11. How are pollutants regulated in Canada, and what regulatory information is available on PollutionWatch?
  12. Where can I ask for more information about government-compiled pollution data?
  13. As a teacher, I would like to present this information to my students. How can I do it?
  14. What does it mean if there are no reporting facilities in my community?
  15. Why don't I get a list of facilities when I enter my postal code?
  16. Why do some facilities have a series of numbers for their address information?
  17. What PollutionWatch reports are available that can tell me more about releases and transfers in Canada ?
  18. How can I get more information about releases and transfers in the Great Lakes ?
  19. Why does PollutionWatch present time trends from 1995 to 2005?
  20. How does PollutionWatch account for increased numbers of facilities reporting their releases and transfers over time?

1. Where does PollutionWatch get its data?

PollutionWatch uses the most recently available data from two federal government programs: the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) (posted in February 2008 by Environment Canada ), and the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program ( current as of August 1, 2007 ) . The NPRI data covers data reported from 1995 to 2006 . The greenhouse gas data is available from 2004 to 2006.

Submitting accurate NPRI and greenhouse gas data is the responsibility of each reporting facility. This data is then verified by the federal government, and therefore PollutionWatch is not responsible for inaccuracies or missing data, including spelling mistakes and empty fields.

For more information about the reporting requirements of the NPRI program see " Understanding the Data " or Environment Canada's NPRI web site.

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2. What isn't in the data?

The NPRI and greenhouse gas data are just two sources of information about pollutants in your community .

NPRI data does not cover all pollutants or all sources of pollution. More than 300 pollutants are reported to NPRI, a small fraction of the estimated 70,000 to 80,000 pollutants in global commerce. Mobile sources (such as cars, trucks), area sources (such as service stations and dry cleaners) and natural sources do not report to NPRI, and so they are not included in the PollutionWatch web site. For some pollutants, these sources can be large contributors to pollution in a community.

Only those facilities that meet reporting thresholds report to NPRI and are therefore included on PollutionWatch. The NPRI data are releases and transfers of pollutants and do not provide information on exposures to those pollutants.

The greenhouse gas database administered by the federal government, and used on the PollutionWatch web site, does not cover all sources of greenhouses gases. Only large facilities that emit the equivalent of 100,000 tonnes (100 kt) or more of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year are required to report under the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. This threshold applied to 343 facilities across Canada in all sectors for the 2006 reporting year. This greenhouse gas data is from large industrial sources only. It does not include other sources of greenhouse gases such as cars, trucks, residential and office heating, agricultural sources and natural sources. For some greenhouse gases, industrial sources are the main contributor to the overall national total. For other greenhouse gases, industrial sources are a smaller part of the overall total.

Facilities that meet the reporting threshold are required to report the following greenhouse gases:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
  • Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
For more detailed information, please see Understanding the Data.

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3. What are greenhouse gases and how do they relate to global climate change?

Scientific consensus tells us that the earth is warming much more quickly than at any other time in history. This warming of the earth is referred to as ‘global climate change' or ‘global warming'.

Scientists also agree that human activities that release certain gases into the atmosphere are contributing to global climate change. These gases, known as greenhouse gases (GHG), include carbon dioxide, methane, sulphur hexafluoride and nitrous oxides.

As the earth continues to warm, scientists say we can expect to see dramatic, and harmful, changes in the environment: rises in sea level that will affect coastal areas, increased risks of floods and drought, and threats to biodiversity. Global climate change will also affect our health.

4. What is a criteria air pollutant/contaminant (CAC)?

A major change to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI ) for the 2002 reporting year, reflected in PollutionWatch, was the addition of the seven new pollutants, called Criteria Air Contaminants (CACs):

  • carbon monoxide;
  • oxides of nitrogen;
  • sulphur dioxide;
  • total particulate matter less than 100 microns;
  • particulate matter less than or equal to 10 microns (PM 10);
  • particulate matter less than or equal to 2.5 microns ( PM 2.5); and,
  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The addition of these CACs is important as they interact to create smog and acid rain and have been associated with respiratory problems. See table 1 for a list of Criteria Air Contaminants and their environmental and health effects.

Because CACs tend to be reported in large amounts by industry, CACs can dwarf the smaller amounts reported as toxic pollutants under NPRI. However, some toxic pollutants, such as mercury, dioxins and furans, can have significant environmental and health impacts even when released in small amounts.

Table 1 - Criteria Air Contaminants and their environmental and health effects

Pollutant

Smog

Acid Deposit-ion/ Acid Rain

Odour

Visibility/ Soiling

Toxic under the Canadian Environ-mental Protection Act

Suspected Respiratory toxin

Reproductive/ Developmental

Sulphur dioxide

y

y

 

y

y

y

 

Carbon monoxide

y

 

 

 

 

y

y

Nitrogen oxides

y

y

 

y

y

y

 

Particulates

y

y

y

y

y

y

 

VOCs

y

 

y

 

y

 

 

Adapted from MOE, Air Quality in Ontario, 2002, Scorecard and NPRI Overview,
Note: SO 2 and NO x considered ozone precursors ; are CEPA “toxic”,
Only PM 10 and PM 2.5 , not total particulate matter are CEPA “toxic” and respiratory toxin.

Some members of the VOC family such as benzene and formaldehyde are considered suspected respiratory toxins. Some members of VOC family are not respiratory toxins .

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5. How does PollutionWatch data relate to environmental problems such as smog, climate change, and thinning of the ozone layer?

PollutionWatch is based on the more than 300 pollutants (CACs and toxic pollutants) reported to NPRI in 2 006 and 6 pollutants reported to the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Program in 2 006 . Emissions of greenhouse gases lead to global climate change.

Many of the NPRI pollutants are considered toxic, which means they may be causing cancer or be associated with other environmental and health effects (e.g., respiratory illnesses, reproductive and developmental harm , etc.). For a detailed list of pollutants with different potential health effects, see the health effects summary.

NPRI also includes some of the substances, such as volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, which combine to create smog and acid rain. These substances are called Criteria Air Contaminants (CACs). You can search for Criteria Air Contaminants in “ Search your Community”.

NPRI reporting is required for most pollutants associated with the thinning of the ozone layer (such as CFCs and HCFCs) and can be tracked on PollutionWatch.

All of the pollutants reported to the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Program, and available to search on the PollutionWatch web site, are linked to global climate change.

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6. What's the difference between releases and transfers?

A release is a discharge of a pollutant to the environment. A facility can release pollutants to the air, water and land or inject them underground. An off-site release happens when a facility sends pollutants to disposal at another site.

A facility can also send pollutants off- site to another facility for treatment, sewage, energy recovery or recycling. It's called a transfer.

PollutionWatch tracks recycling separately and therefore does not include recycling in the amounts given for total releases and transfers. Recycling and energy recovery are also not included in the time trends available on PollutionWatch. Large amounts of pollutants are recycled each year. For information about recycling, see the Who is Polluting section of PollutionWatch.

Please note that Environment Canada presents the data differently than PollutionWatch.

This will result in different views of the NPRI data. Environment Canada has narrowed the definition of releases to include only pollutants sent to the air and water, as well as spills, leaks and other to land. PollutionWatch uses the word ‘releases' to include these categories as well as pollutants sent to landfill and underground injection. Visitors and users of the PollutionWatch web site, therefore, should exercise caution when using both the PollutionWatch and NPRI web sites.

For more detailed definitions of the terms ‘release' and ‘transfer', please see Understanding the Data .

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7. Why does PollutionWatch add all of the pollutants reported to NPRI together?

PollutionWatch provides many different ways of looking at the pollution data, from individual pollutants to the total releases and transfers reported to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) by a facility. Adding the NPRI pollutants together provides a rough estimate of the amount of pollutants produced by a facility that require management.

PollutionWatch recognizes that pollutants have different toxicities. PollutionWatch provides information on specific health effects. Read the health effects summary to find out more.

PollutionWatch accounts for the double counting of NPRI pollutants when adding together releases and transfers. Double counting occurs when one facility transfers pollutants to another facility which then reports the same pollutant released into the air, water, and land or injected underground on-site. For example, a steel mill may transfer metals to a hazardous waste facility for their disposal in an on-site landfill. Both the steel mill and the hazardous waste facility are obliged to report the release of these metals to NPRI.

PollutionWatch uses the term “ adjusted total releases ” to describe the total releases minus the amount of pollutants that is double counted. The amount of pollutants that are double counted is a relatively small percentage of total releases.

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8. Are these NPRI releases and transfers harmful to my health?

The NPRI data presented on PollutionWatch are releases and transfers of pollutants and not actual exposures of pollutants to humans. The data are a starting point for getting the information you need to assess health effects, but on their own the data cannot tell you whether or not the releases and transfers of the pollutants by a facility are safe or unsafe. For a discussion of potential health effects see the health effects summary.

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9. Why might a facility's NPRI pollution data go up or down from year to year?

Facilities can go out of business, change their production process, increase or decrease production, change their method of estimating releases and transfers, or change the pollutants they use - those are some of the reasons why a facility's NPRI release and transfer numbers can go up or down from year to year. Sometimes facilities may include notes along with their reporting of substances to NPRI to explain such variation. This information can be viewed on PollutionWatch by linking to the facility information found within each facility profile.

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10. Why aren't changes in production taken into account in the data?

PollutionWatch data do not take into account production because there is no mandatory reporting of production data in NPRI or in the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Program. In addition, is it difficult to find a measure of production that fits all facilities and sectors. There is not always a direct relationship between production and releases and transfers. Releases and transfers can increase with increased production - or if a facility becomes more efficient, releases and transfers can decrease when production increases.

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11. How are pollutants regulated in Canada, and what regulatory information is available on PollutionWatch?

All levels of government in Canada (federal, provincial or municipal) have a responsibility to address pollution. PollutionWatch provides an overview of the statutes and/or non-regulatory initiatives focused on pollutants at the federal level as well as for selected provinces. The information is updated as of 2005.

This information can be found by choosing the Environmental Laws section on PollutionWatch. For information on municipal bylaws relating to releases and transfers, please contact your municipal office.

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12. Where can I ask for more information about government-compiled pollution data?

Any citizen has the right to ask questions about what pollutants you might be exposed to. You can contact the facility directly that you have concerns or questions about. You can contact your Member of Parliament, Environment Canada or Health Canada and ask for an explanation in language you can understand.

At Environment Canada you can contact the office of National Pollutant Release Inventory at NPRI@ec.gc.ca or 1-877-877-8375 with questions regarding the program. For information about greenhouse gases , you can contact the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Program at ghg@ec.gc.ca or (819) 994-0684

For general inquiries for Environment Canada, call 819-997-2800 or 1-800-668-6767 or 819-994-0736 (Teletype for the hearing impaired), by E-mail: enviroinfo@ec.gc.ca

In addition, PollutionWatch provides users with the opportunity to send an email to the top polluting facilities in their community or send an email to the federal Minister of the Environment.

To send an email to a facility, visit the facility profile and click onto the facility information page. Choose the ‘email the facility' link on the top right hand side of the page.

To send an email to the federal Minister of Environment, visit the Take Action section.

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13. As a teacher, I would like to present this information to my students. How can I do it?

There are a number of resources focused on pollution data designed specifically for teachers. There are Lesson Plans for Teachers on PollutionWatch which focus on 2002 NPRI data. Poster size maps of Canada outlining the pollutant hotspots in the country are also available by contacting the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy ( CIELAP ) at cielap@cielap.org. The posters focus on 2001 NPRI data. In addition, CIELAP has produced a Citizens' Guide to the NPRI which is available at www.cielap.org .

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14. What does it mean if there are no reporting facilities in my community?

This does not necessarily mean that there are no pollutants or greenhouse gases being released and transferred in your community. There may be facilities releasing and transferring pollutants that do not meet the reporting requirements of the NPRI program or the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Program .

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15. Why don't I get a list of facilities when I enter my postal code?

When you enter your postal code, PollutionWatch searches for facilities in your community with the same postal code that report their releases and transfers to the federal government through the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), or to the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Program. PollutionWatch searches the first three characters of your postal code to create a list of facilities in your community. If no list appears after you enter your full postal code, try using the first two or first three characters and search again.

You may also obtain a list of facilities in your community on the Search Your Community section by selecting a specific province and looking for facilities located in your community. This link also permits visitors to produce maps that locate facilities within a specific defined area.

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16. Why do some facilities have a series of numbers for their address information?

Some facilities that report their releases and transfers to the federal government are located in remote areas with no traditional street, rural road or highway addresses. Instead, these facilities use geographic coordinates, such as “ 10-08-066-05 W4M / 10-05-037-04 W4M”.

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17. What PollutionWatch reports are available that can tell me more about releases and transfers in Canada ?

In addition to the interactive search features on PollutionWatch, visitors to the web site can get information about releases and transfers across Canada in various PollutionWatch reports and fact sheets . All reports published by PollutionWatch are available on the web site for free download . You can also get various overviews of pollution in the “Pollution Overviews” section of the web site.

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18. How can I get more information about releases and transfers in the Great Lakes ?

17. How can I get more information about releases and transfers in the Great Lakes ?

PollutionWatch has produced a number of reports highlighting the pollution levels in the Great Lakes Basin . This includes a report, Great Lakes, Great Pollution, which analyzes the 2002 NPRI data to examine the total releases and transfers by facilities in the Great Lakes region in Canada . Another PollutionWatch report, Partners in Pollution, highlights the pollution levels in the Great Lakes basin using 2002 NPRI and U.S. TRI data. The reports is available by linking to “Reports.”

An interactive Great Lakes map is available on the PollutionWatch web site . More information about releases and transfers in the Great Lakes basin by Canadian facilities is available in the PollutionWatch report on the Great Lakes.

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19.  Why does PollutionWatch present time trends from 1995 to 2006?

Governments and the public want to track releases and transfers of pollutants over time as one way to measure progress on pollution across Canada . The time trends on the PollutionWatch web site provide an indication of whether there is an increase or decline in releases and transfers of specific groups of substances over a specific period of time. There are many possible reasons why a facility may report an increase or decrease over time including: change in process, production or chemical use; change in reporting requirements, guidance manuals or estimation methods; and, change in compliance or enforcement. These time trends may help to determine the need to strengthen efforts for addressing releases and transfers of pollutants in a specific area or sector in Canada .

The PollutionWatch time trends analyze core pollutants that have been reported consistently to NPRI between 1995 and 2006 . There are 158 core toxic pollutants tracked on the PollutionWatch time trends (more than 300 pollutants were required to be reported to NPRI in 2006 ). Visitors are able to create time trends for toxic pollutants and criteria air contaminants as well as Greenhouse Gases.

The time trends on the PollutionWatch web site allow you to look at changes in releases and transfers of pollutants by province, community, facility or company and by potential health effects, such as suspected respiratory toxins, carcinogens and suspected reproductive or developmental toxins. PollutionWatch presents all the data for each year from 1995 to 2006 , so you can also choose to look at trends over specific time periods.

For a more detailed description of how PollutionWatch time trends are analyzed, please read “Understanding the Data”.

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20. How does PollutionWatch account for increased numbers of facilities reporting their releases and transfers over time?

The Pollution Wat ch web site presents trends based on all the facilities that reported.

PollutionWatch recognizes that the number of facilities reporting to NPRI has increased between1995 and 200 5. There are a number of possible reasons for this increase: facilities changed processes or production and increased their releases and transfers; they changed their estimation methods; they changed their pollutants ; they were part of a sector now required to report (such as oil and gas), they responded to NPRI reporting changes (such as lowered thresholds or increased compliance methods); or, they recently became aware of their need to report to NPRI.

PollutionWatch has presented time trends in different ways by analyzing all facilities that have reported between 1995 and 2005, and analyzing only those facilities that have reported consistently between 1995 and 2005.

For a more detailed analysis and discussion of time trends, download the PollutionWatch National Report PollutionWatch National Report.

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