Understanding how metals behave in the environment and assessing their impact is important to policymakers, the scientific community, the metal mining industry and to society in general. Sound science is key to developing appropriate policies and approaches to metals issues, and for developing management capabilities required to protect the environment. The responsible management of minerals, metals and their products will continue to ensure their safe and widespread use.
NRCan Can Help
CANMET-MMSL has established a team of specialists on the environmental effects of metals, from aquatic toxicology and geochemistry to metallurgical processing and the characterization of metal-bearing substances. This knowledge is used in combination with expertise in life-cycle assessment (LCA) to integrate information in the context of environmental sustainability. This unique multi-disciplinary team enables CANMET-MMSL to play a leading role in developing and promoting a sound scientific foundation for protocols related to metals and metal products as well as environmental protection decisions at both a national and international level.
CANMET-MMSL has developed a range of expertise through its R&D activities:
Hazard identification of metals alloys and metal compounds
- Undertaking research that will be used to develop standards, protocols, guidelines and classification criteria;
- Integrating research results and bringing the latest findings forward in national and international multi-stakeholder fora.
Environmental impact of metals and metal compounds
- Investigating transformation and bioavailability of metals, alloys and metal mixtures in aquatic media;
- Assessing acute toxicity and developing predictive models;
- Investigating chronic sublethal impacts of metals.
Life-cycle assessment (LCA) methodology and standards
- Promoting LCA as an important tool for the sustainable development of the metals industry;
- Participating in national and international committees that develop standards for life-cycle assessment;
- Promoting the use of appropriate methodologies for recycling and for life-cycle impact assessment of metals.
Environmental impacts of metal production.
- Characterization and identification of toxicity in effluents;
- Development and application of models for the prediction of effluent toxicity;
- Characterizing smelter emissions;
- Understanding the potential impact on the environment;
- Participation and coordination of multi-partner research on mine effluents.
CANMET-MMSL works in partnership with other federal departments, provincial/territorial governments, universities, environmental non-governmental organizations, industry, domestic and international industry associations, and consultants. Examples of successful partnerships are:
- Targeted research and participation in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Working Groups and Advisory Committees is being undertaken to ensure the application of sound science in the development of international standards, protocols and guidelines for appropriate hazard identification measures for metals, alloys and metal compounds. This work is being done within the context of global harmonization, as mandated by the United Nations.
- The need for life-cycle assessment approaches in decision-making, and the illustration of limitations, barriers and opportunities for methodology development are being demonstrated. A key feature in this initiative was organizing the Eco-indicators for Products and Materials Workshop in 1997.
- Research partnerships between MMSL, industry and universities directed at the development of predictive models to characterize metal and effluent toxicity on a site specific water chemistry basis.
- CANMET-MMSL coordinates multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Aquatic Effects Technology Evaluation (AETE) Program and the Toxicological Investigations of Mining Effluents (TIME) Network. These initiatives identify and evaluate methodologies and technologies for meeting the environmental protection requirements for mine effluents.
- CANMET-MMSL is undertaking a collaborative effort to develop appropriate management options for smelter emissions. For the past six years, CANMET-MMSL has provided scientific advice in this area and more recently has conducted research on smelter and power plant emission characterization.
- CANMET-MMSL is cooperating with Environment Canada in developing methodologies for the categorization of inorganic substances on Canada's Domestic Substances List (DSL). The partnership involves conducting laboratory research and contributing expertise in the field of metals chemistry and toxicology.