Nickel Air Quality Standards
Draft Regulation Amending the Clean Air Regulation
A comparative review of the regulatory framework for the nickel
industry revealed that it would be advantageous to amend the nickel
standard to achieve an optimal solution in terms of public health
and environmental protection, as well as economic development. The
review was conducted by four independent experts selected by the
Comité interministériel d’examen de la norme sur le nickel.
The experts suggested an annual standard equivalent to the recommendation
of the European Union would be appropriate: 20 nanograms per cubic
The ambient air section of the Revue toxicologique de l’encadrement
règlementaire de l’industrie du nickel (Toxicological Review of
the Nickel Industry Regulatory Framework) concluded that 20 ng/m3
would prevent critical respiratory consequences of repeated exposure
to nickel and should also provide carcinogenic protection. A 24-hour
value would also be necessary to protect more sensitive individuals
who may be more rapidly affected than the general population if
exposed to high concentrations of this element. The target value
is a suggested one, which implies that reasonable means should be
taken based on best available technology to ensure compliance.
In the Rapport comparatif des règlementations applicables à la
pollution de l’air ambiant par le nickel dans différentes régions
du monde (Comparative Report on Ambient Air Nickel Pollution Regulations
in Different Regions of the World), the use of a ceiling, i.e. a
value not to be exceeded at any time, was suggested to ensure regulatory
consistency with the other standards in the Clean Air Regulation
(CAR). Consistency in the application of air quality standards and
in the management of risks to the public and the environment is
necessary. The principles for setting and applying air quality standards
and criteria are defined in the
Cadre de détermination et d'application (determination and application
Toxicology expert Michèle Bouchard concluded that the study selected
by the Ministère to revise the nickel standard in 2013 was not internationally
agreed upon. The new 24-hour standard, however, was determined by
taking into consideration the main recommendations of an earlier
study. The selected study recommended by Ms. Bouchard was conducted
by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), an organization universally
recognized for the quality of its research. It should be noted that
Dr. Bouchard is Vice-Dean of Research and Full Professor in the
School of Public Health at the Université de Montréal, Head of the
Chair in Toxicological Risk Analysis and Management, and Director
of the Biomarkers/Xenobiotics and Nanoparticles Analysis Unit.
The difference observed between the value suggested by Ms. Bouchard
and the eventually selected daily standard reflects slight methodological
adjustments required to match Québec’s nickel standard with the
other standards in the CAR. Ms. Bouchard has been consulted on this
new daily standard and her comments were considered. The detailed
calculation leading to the nickel standards are presented in the
technique de la norme de qualité de l’atmosphère relative au nickel
(nickel air quality standard technical specifications sheet)
Reports by experts commissioned by the Comité interministériel
d’examen de la norme sur le nickel
1. Toxicological review of
the ambient air component of the regulatory framework for the nickel
The review of the literature includes toxicological and epidemiological
data used to determine air quality standards for nickel and its
different compounds. It also includes a summary table of reference
values used by various jurisdictions or organizations.
Setting an air quality standard requires risk assessment and
management steps within a framework of defined principles and guidelines.
A degree of consistency in the treatment of potential health hazards,
the environmental effects of contaminants, the administrative enforcement
of requirements for meeting air quality standards, and the management
of risks is paramount.
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies
nickel compounds as carcinogenic.
- In addition to the possible effects of repeated exposure
to nickel, effects may also be observed following a short period
of exposure to higher concentrations.
- More sensitive individuals, such as people suffering from
asthma, may react to concentrations that would not impact the
- Several jurisdictions chose the 1996 studies conducted by
the NTP (universally acknowledged for their quality) as the
basis for their policies.
- Several jurisdictions already suggest an average annual
value based on the European Union recommendation of 20 ng/m3.
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)
estimate was not retained, since it is based on nickel subsulfide,
which is one of the most toxic nickel compounds known and yet
is hardly present in ambient air.
- The 2013 study used to set the CAR 24-hour standard of 14
ng/m3 has some methodological weaknesses.
Proposals for amending the standard
- An annual standard of 20 ng/m3 is recommended
for preventing critical respiratory effects associated with
repeated exposure to nickel and its compounds. Based on currently
available information, this value should also protect individuals
against carcinogenic effects associated with short-term exposure
to nickel and its compounds.
- A target 24-hour value of 40 ng/m3 could be selected
in order to prevent respiratory effects in the most sensitive
The purpose of this report is to provide a comparative analysis
of ambient air protection regulations that apply to the nickel industry,
in jurisdictions where the industry operates, and to recommend a
strategy or approaches that could be used by Québec.
The air quality standards for nickel compounds set by different
jurisdictions vary on the basis of factors such as the date of standards
review, effects to be prevented, risk levels deemed acceptable and
particle size targeted by the standard. In addition, in order to
assess the stringency of a particular standard, the regulatory framework
employed and the compliance requirements must be considered.
- Some jurisdictions have set a target value for nickel, which
is equivalent to an obligation to take reasonable compliance
steps based on best available technology. By contrast, other
jurisdictions have opted for a limit value, which corresponds
to an obligation of result, i.e. a value that must not be exceeded
at any time. Limit values are more restrictive than target values.
- In all jurisdictions that were surveyed, penalties are used
to achieve compliance with nickel standards or values. However,
as a general rule, continuous improvement measures are initially
requested, i.e. incentives first, penalties later.
- Some jurisdictions employ mechanisms allowing various sectors
to deviate from the existing standard, as well as site-specific
Proposals for amending the standard
- Set an annual standard of 20 ng/m3 based on the
value recommended by the European Union.
- Set a nickel standard based on a limit value principle for
the purpose of consistency with other Clean Air Regulation standards.
- Avoid approaches such as Ontario’s, leading to case-by-case
negotiations on project authorization, which is not desirable.
This report presents a comparison of the requirements imposed
by different jurisdictions before authorizing nickel emitting projects,
in addition to a profile of the nickel industry in these jurisdictions.
In order to properly document the specific context of Québec, the
report provides a status report on ambient air quality as it relates
to nickel in Québec.
Nickel emission sources can vary from one jurisdiction to another.
This means that the jurisdictional regulatory framework can be tailored
to improve emission control at source. Moreover, air quality standards
are not the only mechanism that can be put in place to limit ambient
air nickel emission.
- Nickel concentrations measured in ambient air in Québec
when there are no nickel facilities nearby are generally low
and representative of concentrations observed elsewhere in the
- A decrease in ambient air nickel concentration was observed
between 2006 and 2015 at measurement stations located near emission
sources in Québec.
- In Western countries where nickel is mined, few jurisdictions
employ an ambient nickel criterion or standard that requires
modelling or monitoring for project approval. In addition, some
jurisdictions, such as Ontario and European countries, have
chosen a supportive strategy rather than a punitive approach.
- Ontario is one of the jurisdictions with the most developed
requirements for nickel in ambient air. Its regulation includes
mechanisms that permit some degree of variance from the existing
standard, such as allowances for specific industrial sectors
and site-specific norms.
- The application of best available technology is essential
for reducing ambient air nickel concentrations. For example,
concentrate or ore should be processed and handled within closed
buildings and conveyor belts. Moreover, applying best available
technology does not entail disproportionate costs.
- Applying a daily rather than annual standard could potentially
lead to exceedances whether or not the emitter used best available
Proposals for amending the standard
- Apply the annual standard of 20 ng/m3 that is
recommended by the European Union.
- If a daily standard is retained, allow an exceedance percentage,
for example, that could be applicable on the 98th
The purpose of this report is to quantify the economic benefits
flowing from the nickel industry and to put into perspective the
potential economic consequences associated with the nickel standard
in its current form. Data on the Québec and world nickel markets
were collected, interviews were conducted with industry players
in Québec and simulations were carried out with the inter-sector
model of the Institut de la statistique du Québec (ISQ). In addition,
a review was conducted on Québec’s investment attractiveness in
relation to its nickel standard.
- Nickel mining injects more than $500 million annually into
the Québec economy and contributes to more than 2,900 direct
and indirect jobs, $340 million in annual GDP and $72 million
in annual tax and quasi-tax revenues for Québec.
- The combined labour force and supplier base of the two
current operating nickel mining corporations (Glencore Mine
Raglan and Canadian Royalties) exceeds 1,000 from 17 administrative
regions of Québec.
- Approximately 22% of operating expenditures and 17% of direct
employment at nickel mine sites, excluding contractors, are
related to indigenous groups. This includes profit sharing amounts.
- New nickel mining projects could emerge on the international
scene since demand is expected to rise sharply, particularly
due to the projected growth of the electric vehicle battery
market and the upward trajectory of nickel prices.
- Nickel is the third most sought after mineral substance
in Québec. The life extension project of the Raglan Mine and
the Phase II Dumont Project are set to double the production
of nickel in Québec.
- Nickel mining companies could face potential repeat exceedances
if the current nickel standard is not amended.
- The production costs faced by Canadian mining companies
(and especially those located in Nord-du-Québec) are among the
highest in the world.
- The implementation of additional mitigation measures
in response to potential standard exceedances would reduce
the global competitiveness of nickel mines in Québec and
could eventually lead them to slow production, either temporarily
- The level and recurrence of annual benefits associated with
operating expenditures and recurring capital gains over the
life of these projects are endangered, as projects could be
slowed down or cancelled due to societal pressures or the lack
of competitiveness of Québec nickel due to costs.
- Each year of operational disturbance means an average
of 1,600 direct and indirect jobs at risk of disappearing,
as well as $310 M in annual GDP and $57 M in tax revenues.
- A nickel standard that is more restrictive than elsewhere
in Canada and/or the rest of the world could reduce Québec’s
appeal for additional investments in the nickel sector, while
the global context seems to be favourable to the development
of new projects.
- Potential alternatives include Ontario, Newfoundland
and Labrador and Australia.