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Dark liquid in New Brunswick’s Restigouche River sparks worry for water safety

The Restigouche River carries a dark liquid as it flows past the Campbellton, N.B. waterfront on May 10. —Shawn Metallic/Facebook
The Restigouche River carries a dark liquid as it flows past the Campbellton, N.B. waterfront on May 10. —Shawn Metallic/Facebook - Contributed

Government confirms effluent from Av Cell Inc. pulp mill


Some residents in Campbellton, N.B. were alarmed by the appearance of a dark liquid in the Restigouche River earlier this month. But the Department of Environment and Local Government says samples taken were within parameters.

Local man Shawn Metallic snapped the photo that got the discussion started.

His snapshots showed a molasses-coloured streak running along the waterfront park in Campbellton.

Many speculated the streak originated from the Av Cell Inc. pulp mill, located upstream in Atholville.

On Friday, May 24, the N.B. Department of Environment and Local Government confirmed the liquid did come from the Atholville facility.

“I strongly believe they should not be allowed to dump anything in our waters. There has to be another method, like holding ponds,” Metallic said.

It’s not the first time residents have voiced concern about mill effluent.

The Department said in statement to SaltWire Network that samples didn’t exceed limits.

 “A sample was taken by inspectors from the Department of Environment and Local Government on May 10 and was analyzed for total suspended solids, biological oxygen demand and pH at RPC laboratory,” said Erika Jutras, spokeswoman for the N.B. government, in a written statement.

“The results indicated that the amounts did not exceed limits for all three parameters and comply with the Approval to Operate. Observations of dark plume were likely caused by pigments found in the effluent.”

Mike van den Heuvel is a researcher with the University of Prince Edward Island and Canada Research Chair in Watershed Ecological Integrity at the Canadian Rivers Institute.

“While pulp mill effluent is often dark due to the various wood-related tannins and such, this effluent was oddly black. It may just be the nature of the plume in high flow against the otherwise clear water,” said van den Heuvel after seeing the Facebook photo.

The Av Cell website says the mill’s mandate is to make “specialty pulp products to service the textile industry.” 

The Atholville mill and another in Nackawic, produce “high content dissolving pulp or specialty cellulose” that is used to make rayon for clothes and home textiles.

“There is very little known about this process and the nature of the effluents,” said van den Heuvel, adding it is possible the dark colour is just a normal part of the uncommon process.

Several requests for comment were made to the Atholville mill, but Av Cell did not respond in time for publication.

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