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Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines (FEQGs)

What are FEQGs?

Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines (FEQGs) are recommendations in quantitative or qualitative terms to support federal environmental quality monitoring. FEQGs are set at a concentration so that where the concentration of a given chemical is at or below the FEQG, there is low likelihood of direct adverse effects from the chemical on aquatic life exposed via the water or sediment, or where chemicals may bioaccumulate, in wildlife (birds and mammals) that consume aquatic life. FEQGs do not generally address cumulative exposures or additive effects with other chemicals. As a result, more stringent targets may be useful for certain substances, for example in the risk management phase. FEQGs are based on the toxicological effects, that is, the hazard of specific chemical substances or groups of substances.

The use of FEQGs is voluntary unless prescribed by regulation or binding agreements. Though they may be applied as intermediate values in calculations, FEQGs are neither effluent limits, nor are they "never-to-be-exceeded" values.

Why are FEQGs developed?

The requirement to develop environmental quality guidelines comes from legislation, specifically the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, (CEPA 1999) section 54. The Act states that for the purpose of preserving the quality of the environment, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change shall issue "environmental quality guidelines specifying recommendations in quantitative or qualitative terms to support and maintain particular uses of the environment".

FEQGs may be used directly as evaluation tools in environmental monitoring to assess whether ambient concentrations of pollutants may pose risks to aquatic life. In addition, they may also be used as risk management tools and performance measures. As well, they provide a science-based starting point to derive site-specific effluent limits and risk management targets.

How do FEQGs differ from Canadian Environmental Quality Guidelines?

The Minister is required under section 54 of CEPA 1999 to issue environmental quality guidelines. In the past, these commitments were, in essence, met solely by Environment and Climate Change Canada's cooperative work with the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) representing federal, provincial and territorial interest by developing Canadian Environmental Quality Guidelines. These commitments were also published in the CEPA Annual Report.

Currently, under the Chemicals Management Plan, there is an additional need to develop FEQGs to support federal environmental quality monitoring and risk assessment and risk management activities on substances for which CCME guidelines do not yet exist.

When are FEQGs developed?

FEQGs may be developed at different times throughout the risk assessment and risk management cycle.  For chemicals that are undergoing or have already undergone a regulatory ecological assessment under CEPA 1999, FEQGs are generally based on the same effects data considered in the ecological assessment.

FEQGs may also be developed to provide stakeholders with benchmarks or targets for the management of chemical substances for which a regulatory ecological assessment under CEPA 1999 may or may not be developed.

How are FEQGs developed?

FEQGs are developed using accepted effects evaluation techniques. Approaches are consistent with CCME and ecological screening assessment processes. For example, the following protocol is compatible with the process used to develop FEQGs: A Protocol for the Derivation of Water Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life 2007. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, Winnipeg, Manitoba. For substances for which there is a great deal of data available, a distributional approach is used that makes the best use of all the effects data. Where there is less data available, the approach uses a critical toxicity value plus an application (safety) factor to account for the greater uncertainty.

Peer review is essential to the development of FEQGs. This is either done as part of the ecological assessment, or is done independently.

What FEQGs have been published?

How can I get more information?

Inquiries concerning FEQGs may be directed to:

  • National Guidelines and Standards Office
    Science and Risk Assessment Directorate
    200 Sacré-Coeur Boulevard
    Gatineau, Quebec
    K1A 0H3
  • Telephone: 1-800-567-1999 (Toll Free in Canada)
    Fax : 1-800-410-4313 (toll free in Canada) / (819) 938-5212 (outside of Canada)
  • E-mail: