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Government of Canada announces draft rules to cut pollutants that cause smog in communities across Canada

Press Release

From: Environment and Climate Change Canada

February 23, 2024

Canada has a long history of tackling major sources of air pollution, which has resulted in better air quality for many communities across the country. However, it is clear there are still communities living near industrial facilities that are consistently exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution, and more needs to be done to provide a healthy environment for all Canadians.

Today, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada announced the draft regulations to further reduce emissions from the petroleum sector of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are airborne pollutants that contribute to smog. They are also major contributors to cancer, respiratory diseases, and premature death. These harmful VOCs include benzene and come from storage tanks and loading equipment at petroleum refineries, upgraders, petrochemical facilities, terminals, and other bulk fuel facilities across Canada.

To limit these toxic pollutants, the Government of Canada would require facilities to install vapour control equipment on tanks and loading operations, as well as to inspect and repair that equipment for defects on a regular basis. These changes would improve air quality in neighbourhoods and communities across the country that are close to oil and gas facilities. The changes will also reduce the risk of exposure to toxic carcinogenic substances, such as benzene, for nearby residents. They would bring Canada’s regulatory approach in alignment with that of the United States, which has had similar rules in place for many years.

The draft regulations reflect an on-going commitment to environmental justice and the need to address disproportionate environmental harms on communities near industrial sites. They also support Indigenous reconciliation and recognize the right to a healthy environment in Canada. The Government of Canada would like to thank the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, Ontario, for their advocacy and research regarding health effects in their community caused by exposure to VOCs from industrial facilities.

The Government of Canada also published, in the Canada Gazette, a Notice of Intent to consult on a risk management strategy to reduce benzene emissions from gasoline stations. A 2023 report by Health Canada concluded that Canadians living near gasoline stations may be exposed to elevated levels of toxic carcinogenic substances, such as benzene, due to emissions from underground gasoline storage tanks and other gas station sources. The Government of Canada is now launching consultations with interested parties and reviewing relevant information to inform policies and actions needed to drive down benzene emissions from gasoline stations.

The Government of Canada is inviting interested Canadians to submit their feedback on the draft VOC regulations and the Notice of Intent during the 60-day consultation period, which will end on April 24, 2024.

Quotes

“Everyone in Canada deserves to have clean air, free from the pollution that causes cancer and other diseases. The scientific evidence clearly points to the need for facilities to take action to cut down on these dangerous airborne pollutants. Fortunately, the technology exists for industry to make the necessary changes in a way that is achievable and affordable for them. Cutting air pollution from these facilities across Canada will mean cleaner air and healthier lives for Canadians.”

– The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

“Canadians deserve clean and healthy air. Airborne pollutants affect how we live and breathe, and it is important that we take action now to limit air pollution and protect the health of people all across the country.”

– The Honourable Mark Holland, Minister of Health

“We are pleased to see that Aamjiwnaang First Nation’s engagement has supported enhanced regulatory approaches that will improve air quality for communities such as ours. Engaging and hearing communities’ perspectives, particularly us, as an Anishnaabe community who have long inhabited affected areas, and reflecting those perspectives in the resulting products, is an important step toward better environmental policies and meaningful reconciliation. Aamjiwnaang looks forward to continuing their efforts to work in advocacy and partnerships to continue its journey toward environmental justice and stewardship for our people and community.”

– Aamjiwnaang First Nation’s Chief and Council

Quick facts

  • Better air quality is expected to result in 31,000 fewer days of asthma symptoms among youth, and 91,000 fewer days of restricted activity among non-asthmatics. The total present value of health benefits resulting from these air quality improvements is estimated at $1.05 billion (2022 dollars), between 2024 and 2045.
  • Many VOCs, including benzene, are carcinogenic. They also contribute to air pollution that causes worsening of respiratory symptoms, development of disease, and premature death. Long-term exposure to benzene can cause leukemia. Exposure levels are higher in communities near large emission sources, including Indigenous and low-income communities already facing increased health burdens.
  • The Aamjiwnaang First Nation—which borders a number of petroleum and petrochemical facilities in the Sarnia, Ontario area—would directly benefit from the proposed regulations through lower emissions of carcinogenic benzene from nearby industrial facilities. Engagement with the Aamjiwnaang First Nation and other Indigenous communities helped to inform the development of the draft regulations.
  • Other communities across Canada are also expected to benefit from improved air quality due to lower benzene and other VOC emissions from petroleum storage and loading operations, including in Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Montréal, Saint John, and Halifax, among others.
  • The Reduction in the Release of Volatile Organic Compounds Regulations (Petroleum Sector) were finalized in 2020 and are in force. These Regulations require the implementation of comprehensive leak detection and repair, as well as fenceline monitoring programs at over 25 Canadian petroleum refineries, upgraders, and integrated petrochemical facilities. The draft volatile organic compounds regulations published today build on these requirements.

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Contacts

Kaitlin Power
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
819-230-1557
Kaitlin.Power@ec.gc.ca

Media Relations
Environment and Climate Change Canada
819-938-3338 or 1-844-836-7799 (toll-free)
media@ec.gc.ca

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