Skip to main content

A toxicity-based analysis of Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI): a case study in Nova Scotia


After the success of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) in the United States (US), Canada created the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). Both NPRI and TRI focus on public opinion to coerce facilities to reduce quantities of emissions, through market pressure, although early reductions in Canada may be attributed to traditional command-and-control mechanisms. NPRI uses a quantity-based approach to report atmospheric and effluent releases of pollutants to air and water, but does not account for relative toxicity of releases, which could lead to harmful chemicals being overlooked. A toxicity-based approach using characterization factors from the USEtox® environmental impact assessment tool was used for this study. Releases of organic and inorganic pollutants to both air and water in Nova Scotia for 2015 were analyzed. Using an ecotoxicity analysis found that the highest priority chemicals identified using the NPRI’s quantity-based approach differed markedly from those identified using the toxicity-based approach. Many of the high-priority chemicals identified using toxicity-based analysis are detrimental to ecosystem health and warrant regulatory attention. The Office of the Auditor General of Canada recently suggested that the Canadian federal government needs to improve control risks of toxic substances. Using a toxicity-based approach may help decision makers in the Canadian federal government effectively control risks of toxic substances and help to inform decision makers, regulators, and Canadians about those risks.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. ATDSR [Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry] (2008) ATSDR - ToxFAQsTM: Aluminum. [online] Available at: Accessed 13 June 2018

  2. Auditor General of Canada (2018) Report 1—Toxic Substances. Available at: Accessed 13 June 2018

  3. Bare J (2011) TRACI 2.0: the tool for the reduction and assessment of chemical and other environmental impacts 2.0. Clean Technol Environ Pol 13(5):687–696

  4. Bare JC, Norris GA, Pennington DW, McKone T (2003) TRACI–the tool for the reduction and assessment of chemical and other environmental impacts. J Ind Ecol 6(3):49–78

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bui LTM, Mayer CJ (2003) Regulation and capitalization of environmental amenities: evidence from the toxic release inventory in Massachusetts. Rev Econ Stat 85(3):693–708

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1999) SC 1999, c 33. Available at: Accessed 5 Oct 2018

  7. Cooper N, Green D, Meissner KJ (2017) The Australian National Pollutant Inventory fails to fulfil its legislated goals. Int J Environ Res Public Health 14:478–496

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Delgado-Ceballos J, Rueda-Manzanares A (2010) Public disclosure of corporate environmental performance: Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs). In: Stoner JAF, Wankel C (eds) Global sustainability as a business imperative. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp 111–125

    Google Scholar 

  9. DeMarco JV, Vigod T (2007) Smarter regulation: the case for enforcement and transparency. J Environ Law Pract 17(2):85–113

    Google Scholar 

  10. Dunn AD (2009) A relative risk ranking of selected substances on Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory. Hum Ecol Risk Assess Int J 15(3):579–603

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. ECCC [Environment and Climate Change Canada] (2008) Environment and Climate Change Canada-pollution and waste-frequently asked questions about the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). [online] Available at: Accessed 13 June 2018

  12. ECCC [Environment and Climate Change Canada] 2016a. National pollutant release inventory. Available at:

  13. ECCC [Environment and Climate Change Canada] (2016b) Environment and Climate Change Canada-Pollution and Waste-video tutorials. [online] Available at: Accessed 13 June 2018

  14. Fantke P (Ed.), Bijste, M, Guignard C, Hauschild M, Huijbregts M, Jolliet O, Kounina A, Magaud V, Margni M, McKone TE, Posthuma L, Rosenbaum RK, van de Meent D, van Zelm R (2017) USEtox® 2.0 Documentation (version 1). Available at: Accessed 13 June 2018

  15. Foulon J, Lanoie P, Laplante B (2002) Incentives for pollution control: regulation or information? J Environ Econ Manag 44(1):169–187

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Fujii H, Managi S (2012) Productive inefficiency analysis and toxic chemical substances in U.S. and Japanese manufacturing sectors. Asian Bus Manag 11(3):291–310

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Fujii H, Managi S (2013) Decomposition of toxic chemical substance management in three U.S. manufacturing sectors from 1991 to 2008. J Ind Ecol 17(3):461–471

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Fujii H, Managi S, Kawahara H (2011) The pollution release and transfer register system in the U.S. and Japan: an analysis of productivity. J Clean Prod 19(12):1330–1338

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Fujii H, Okamoto S, Kagawa S, Managi S (2017) Decomposition of toxicity emission changes on the demand and supply sides: empirical study of the US industrial sector. Environ Res Lett 12(12):124008

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Gerde VW, Logsdon JM (2001) Measuring environmental performance: use of the toxics release inventory (TRI) and other US environmental databases. Bus Strat Environ 10(5):269–285

  21. GoC [Government of Canada] (2004) A guide to understanding the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. Available at: Accessed 13 June 2018

  22. Harrison K, Antweiler W (2002) Incentives for pollution abatement: regulation, regulatory threats, and non-governmental pressures. J Polym Anal Manag 22(3):361–282

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hauschild MZ, Huijbregts M, Jolliet O, Macleod M, Margni M, van de Meent D, Rosenbaum RK, McKone TE (2008) Building a model based on scientific consensus for life cycle impact assessment of chemicals: the search for harmony and parsimony. Environ Sci Technol 42:7032–7037

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Hoffman E, Bernier M, Blotnicky B, Golden PG, Janes J, Kader A, Kovacs-Da CR, Pettipas S, Vermeulen S, Walker TR (2015) Assessment of public perception and environmental compliance at a pulp and paper facility: a Canadian case study. Environ Monit Assess 187:766

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Hoffman E, Guernsey JR, Walker TR, Kim JS, Sherren K, Andreou P (2017) Pilot study investigating ambient air toxics emissions near a Canadian kraft pulp and paper facility in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. Environ Sci Pollut Res 24(25):20685–20698

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Jia CQ, Di Guardo A, Mackay D (1996) Toxics release inventories: opportunities for improved presentation and interpretation. Environ Poly Anal 30(2):86–91

    Google Scholar 

  27. Johnston Edwards S, Walker TR (2019) An overview of Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory program as a pollution control policy tool. J Environ Plan Manag.

  28. Koh SCL, Ibn-Mohammed T, Acquaye A, Feng K, Reaney IM, Hubacek K, Fujii H, Khatab K (2016) Drivers of U.S. toxicological footprints trajectory 1998–2013. Sci Rep 6:39514

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Lim S-R, Lam CW, Schoenung JM (2010) Quantity-based and toxicity-based evaluation of the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory. J Hazard Mater 178(1):49–56

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Olewiler N, Dawson K (1998) Analysis of national pollutant release inventory data on toxic emissions by industry. [Working Paper] Burnaby, BC: Simon Fraser University. Available at: Accessed 13 June 2018

  31. Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (2010) Cutting costs in chemicals management: how OECD helps governments and industry. Paris, OECD. 48 p. Available at: Accessed 13 June 2018

  32. Reimer PS (1988) Environmental effects of manganese and proposed freshwater guidelines to protect aquatic life in British Columbia. B. Sc. (Agriculture). University of British Columbia.

  33. Rosenbaum RK, Bachmann TM, Gold LS, Huijbregts MAJ, Jolliet O, Juraske R, Koehler A, Larsen HF, MacLeod M, Margni M, McKone TE, Payet J, Schuhmacher M, van de Meent D, Hauschild MZ (2008) USEtox—the UNEP-SETAC toxicity model: recommended characterisation factors for human toxicity and freshwater ecotoxicity in life cycle impact assessment. Int J Life Cycle Assess 13:532–546

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Rosenberger J (2014) Canadian experiences in pollutant reporting-the national pollutant release inventory. [online] Available at: <>. Accessed 13 June 2018

  35. Saouter E, Aschberger K, Fantke P, Hauschild MZ, Bopp SK, Kienzler A, Paini A, Pant R, Secchi M, Sala S (2017) Improving substance information in USEtox®, part 1: discussion on data and approaches for estimating freshwater ecotoxicity effect factors. Environ Toxicol Chem 36:3450–3462

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Sullivan R, Gouldson A (2007) Pollutant release and transfer registers: examining the value of government-led reporting on corporate environmental performance. Corp Soc Resp Environ Manage 14(5):263–273

  37. Tang M, Mudd GM (2014) Canadian power stations and the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI): a success story for pollution intensity? Water Air Soil Pollut 225(10):2129

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Tietenberg T (1998) Disclosure strategies for pollution control. Environ Resour Econ 11(3-4):587–602

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. United Nations Environment Programme (2013) Cost of inaction on the sound management of chemicals. Nairobi, UN Environmental Program. 88 p. Available at: Accessed 13 June 2018

  40. US EPA (2009) Report on the environmental indicators: an uncertainty and scaling pilot study EPA/600/R-08/149F. Washington, DC, National Center for Environmental Assessment. Available at: Accessed 13 June 2018

  41. US EPA (2014) Aquatic life criteria-copper. [Policies and Guidance] US EPA. Available at:

  42. Walker TR (2018) Effectiveness of the National Pollutant Release Inventory as a policy tool to curb atmospheric industrial emissions in Canada. PeerJ Preprints 6:e27372v1

    Google Scholar 

  43. Walker TR (2019) Pollutant release registers are key tools to help curb air pollution. PeerJ Preprints 7:e27983v1.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Walker TR, Willis R, Gray T, MacLean B, McMillan S, Leroy M, Appleton R, Wambolt N, Smith M (2015) Ecological risk assessment of sediments in sydney harbour, Nova Scotia, Canada. Soil Sediment Contam 24(5):471–493

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Zhang H, Walker TR, Davis E, Ma G (2019) Ecological risk assessment of metals in small craft harbour sediments in Nova Scotia. Canada Mar Pollut Bull 146:466–475

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Zhou X, Schoenung JM (2009) Combining U.S.-based prioritization tools to improve screening level accountability for environmental impact: the case of the chemical manufacturing industry. J Hazard Mater 172:423–431

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tony R. Walker.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

Electronic supplementary material


(DOCX 1035 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Taylor, S., Edwards, S.J. & Walker, T.R. A toxicity-based analysis of Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI): a case study in Nova Scotia. Environ Sci Pollut Res 27, 2238–2247 (2020).

Download citation


  • National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI)
  • Environmental pollution
  • USEtox®
  • Ecotoxicity
  • Air and water quality
  • Canada