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Northern Pulp's effluent is not toxic
The discussion about the proposed new effluent treatment facility at Northern Pulp (NP) has turned into a fisheries-vs.-forestry debate, an either-or choice. And yet, for the last several decades, these two industries have co-existed quite happily in northeastern Nova Scotia.
I’m motivated to comment because I’m increasingly disturbed by the misrepresentation and misinformation of the science surrounding the situation, especially as it pertains to the toxicity of treated pulp and paper effluent. I believe the scientific evidence indicates that we don’t need to sacrifice one industry for the other, and that both can continue to carry on into the future. So, I’ll make the following statement:
If we could guarantee that future Northern Pulp effluent is treated to the same level as it is at present, there is considerable evidence that it could be released via the proposed pipeline/diffuser system with no significant impact on commercial fisheries, or on the receiving coastal ecosystem.
Before I talk about effluent toxicity, let’s get a few things out of the way. I’m a research professor at St. F.X., and have done research in the estuarine and coastal zones of the Strait for the last 22 years, working with green crabs, lobsters and bay scallops.
I’m not working for the pulp mill; I’m not being paid to provide any comments on this issue. I do sit on a committee that is overseeing the cleanup and remediation of Boat Harbour. I have applied for and received funds from this agency to carry out research related to the cleanup.
I strongly believe that the whole Boat Harbour situation was a classic example of environmental racism, and I’m delighted the province had the fortitude to pass the Boat Harbour Act to get it cleaned up. I feel the inshore fishery is a vital economic driver in the province, and would never support any activity that would hurt the industry. And finally, the opinions expressed in this article are solely mine. OK, I think that covers everything.
- HELGA GUDERLEY: Many questions about ‘myth-busting’ Northern Pulp effluent study
- COUNTERPOINT: Pulp effluent not as safe as St. F.X. prof claims
Passing the test
First of all, the present-day treated NP effluent is not toxic. In Canada, we require that all pulp and paper companies have toxicity tests performed on their treated effluent. NP-treated effluent is tested using the 96-hour rainbow trout toxicity test and the 48-hour Daphnia toxicity test. The rainbow trout test is done monthly, and in the nearly 300 tests carried out since 1995, the mill failed one test (80 per cent mortality) on Jan. 7, 2014, coincident with a prolonged power outage and partial mill slowdown.
One week later, there was no mortality. In addition, although the effluent can pass the test with 40 per cent mortality, NP-treated effluent rarely has any mortality at all, with an average of one or two fish dying every two years, which would be approximately one per cent. So, rainbow trout can survive a four-day exposure to 100 per cent treated effluent, with virtually no mortality. To encounter that concentration of effluent in the proposed system, the trout would have to be living in the effluent pipe.
Perhaps more relevant to the considerations for the lobster fishery is the Daphnia test, as Daphnia are crustaceans. Daphnia tests are carried out weekly, with greater than 50 per cent mortality indicating a failed test. These tests, like the trout tests, are done with 100 per cent treated effluent. Since 1995, including more than 1,200 tests, the treated NP effluent has not failed a single Daphnia toxicity test. What is more, similar to the rainbow trout test, it is rare to have any mortality in these tests at all, with an average of five or six mortalities per year, out of 52 tests. So at least for this freshwater crustacean, the treated NP effluent is not toxic.
So, rainbow trout can survive a four-day exposure to 100 per cent treated effluent, with virtually no mortality. To encounter that concentration of effluent in the proposed system, the trout would have to be living in the effluent pipe.
While we’re talking about toxicity tests, there are also sub-lethal tests performed as part of the Environmental Effects Monitoring (EEM) program, last completed in 2016. These tests use fertilization rate in a sea urchin, and reproductive growth in a species of red algae. In both tests, the testing agency determines the concentration of effluent that results in a 25 per cent decrease in the measured endpoint. In 2016, a concentration of 2.44 per cent effluent caused the required decrease in sea urchin fertilization, and a concentration of 0.62 per cent effluent caused the required reduction in growth of the red algae.
Putting results in perspective
These values are noted as requiring further attention in the next EEM cycle, but for the moment it is useful to place some context on the results. In both cases, the testing laboratory that performs these tests for many mills across Canada indicates that they suspect the dark colour of the treated NP effluent likely contributes significantly to the results. Furthermore, in the case of the red alga test, a three-day static exposure to the concentration of effluent is used in the test. It is hard to imagine a combination of wind and tide that would result in exposure to the required concentration for three days.
I’m not discounting these results; it is correct that the next EEM cycle will continue to try to determine what aspect or component of the effluent leads to these low concentration effect levels. However, from a practical perspective, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where there would be a significant (or even measurable) impact on organisms in the real world. The latest submission claims the one per cent zone will be approximately five metres from the outflow.
Further evidence that NP treated effluent is not toxic is that there are fish, amphibians and insects living in Boat Harbour. There is a common theme in the mainstream media, social media, and posted videos that there is nothing living in Boat Harbour, that it is an ecological wasteland. This isn’t true. The sediment on the bottom of Boat Harbour is certainly contaminated with low levels of dioxins and furans, and heavy metals, including mercury — and we’ve never observed organisms living in the contaminated sediment.
However, the liquid part of Boat Harbour is nearly 100 per cent treated effluent, and very limited sampling in the fall of 2018 yielded three species of fish living there: mummichogs, sticklebacks and a tomcod. We also collected amphibians as large tadpoles, as well as aquatic insects. Amphibians are established as being sensitive to environmental perturbations, yet they are living in near full-strength treated NP effluent, and it’s not uncommon to see frogs along the shore of Boat Harbour in the spring.
What does this tell you about the toxicity of treated NP effluent? If fish, amphibians and insects can live in 100 per cent effluent, is it reasonable to think that any effects would be seen even within the one per cent zone that we use for management?
A group carried out more fish sampling in Boat Harbour this fall. They didn’t get as many fish, although they did record an additional species, the golden shiner. It’s possible that hurricane Dorian caused considerable fish mortality in Boat Harbour, as the storm would have re-suspended the contaminated sediment throughout the water column, clogging gills and likely causing a huge drop in dissolved oxygen. Finally, in addition to the organisms already mentioned, we routinely see birds (geese, ducks, shorebirds, eagles) in and around Boat Harbour, as well as beavers and muskrats.
Many people may not know that treated NP effluent has been released into the Strait since the mill was built. There isn’t a pipeline, but 60-80 million litres of treated effluent flows out into the Strait every day.
If you look at Boat Harbour on Google Maps, the effluent flows out under Pictou Landing Road (route 348), over a dam that prevents much seawater from coming in, and out to the Northumberland Strait. So if we want to know if there is a negative impact of treated effluent on organisms in the receiving area (the area where the effluent flows out into the Strait), why not sample organisms where the effluent is released, and compare what we find to organisms collected at reference sites well away from the outflow?
That’s what the EEM program does, at NP and at mills across Canada. For the NP mill, the most recent study was carried out in 2015 (there have been seven of these studies since 1996), and resulted in a 2016 report by the company EcoMetrix. Two big parts of this were an extensive benthic macroinvertebrate (these are organisms that live on or in the bottom, like clams, worms, etc.) survey, as well as a fish survey. In both cases, samples are collected in the small section between the control structure at the mouth of Boat Harbour and the Northumberland Strait, in the coastal region directly outside of Boat Harbour, and are compared to samples collected in reference areas that are outside of any influence from the effluent.
During much of the falling tide cycle, the inner region is almost full-strength treated effluent. The results with the benthic macroinvertebrates did not show any substantial differences in population makeup among the sites, and clearly no evidence of a consistent negative impact on benthic macroinvertebrates.
The EEM fish survey was designed to not only compare exposure sites to reference sites, but also to investigate some differences found in previous studies with the most common fish, the mummichog. On a broad scale, the study did not see any significant differences in the fish populations compared to reference sites. Some significant differences were again found in the mummichog, specifically enlarged liver size in females, larger gonads in some fish from the exposure sites, and larger size at age.
In my opinion, these differences are worthy of further investigation, but it would be a leap to say the mill effluent has negatively impacted the local fish population. In some cases, it could be argued the differences, as increased lipid levels and increased size-at-age can be interpreted as positive, are indicative of more food availability.
The science is clear
So, in summary, after 25 years of exposure to very high concentrations of treated NP effluent, an exhaustive survey of the benthic community and resident fish populations did not show any clear negative impacts in the receiving environment.
You could not design and carry out a set of experiments that would provide a fraction of the information that is available from simply examining the receiving environment.
Here is the evidence: The NP effluent, treated to the level it is at present, does not have a significant impact on the receiving environment. And, it should be noted, the present method of releasing the effluent, where it flows directly out along a stream into the Strait, is the worst possible scenario to promote mixing in the receiving environment, resulting in the inner estuary essentially filled with full-strength effluent at some stages of the tide. The effluent has very low salinity, and is usually warmer than the receiving water. These two characteristics result in the effluent staying near the surface, and in some combinations of wind and tide, can form a plume at the surface that can extend the one per cent concentration to many kilometres from the outfall.
If ever there was a situation that should exacerbate the impact of the effluent, the present release method is it. (It is true that a surface plume would reduce exposure of benthic organisms, but within the inner estuary, all organisms are exposed to near full-strength effluent, and these invertebrate populations are not significantly impacted.) Any pipeline/diffuser release, at depth, would markedly improve the mixing dynamics, and drastically reduce the size of the one per cent zone.
The eventual decision regarding NP will be made based on a lot of factors besides science and common sense, including politics, economics, social licence, etc. I have no expertise in these areas, but feel strongly that if the decision is driven by the perceived toxicity of the treated effluent, there is no evidence that would support the loss of jobs and livelihood that would accompany a mill closure.
No evidence mill waste hurting lobster
Now I’ll focus on lobster, because this is the dominant fishery in the region of the Strait where the mill is located. Let me start by saying that if treated Northern Pulp (NP) effluent has a negative impact on lobster populations, someone forgot to tell the lobsters.
If we could guarantee that future Northern Pulp effluent is treated to the same level as it is at present, there is considerable evidence that it could be released via the proposed pipeline/diffuser system with no significant impact on commercial fisheries, or on the receiving coastal ecosystem.
Some readers may not know that the whole idea of releasing treated pulp and paper effluent into the Northumberland Strait isn’t a new one. For the last 50 years, 60-80 million litres a day of treated NP effluent has been flowing directly into the Northumberland Strait in the Pictou Road area.
So, if we’re wondering about the effects of treated NP effluent on lobsters, maybe a logical first step would be to compare lobster catches in the receiving area (the area where the effluent flows into the Strait) to catches to the west (which would be “upstream” of effluent) or well to the east.
You’d think that would be an easy question to answer, but in fact, it’s pretty complicated. Landings are grouped into lobster fishing areas (LFAs), and the area of interest is in LFA 26A, which stretches all the way from Amherst in the west to the bottom of Cape Breton in the east! There is a sub-area called 26ANS, but even it includes the area from Pictou Island to Aulds Cove, so it’s too big as well.
There’s another complication with minimum size limits, as they are even different within 26A. So, you can have two fishermen hauling traps within sight of each other, and one will be keeping 1/10 lobsters, while the other is keeping 4/10 lobsters. Huge differences in landings, even though catch may be similar. A further complication is that fishermen land their catch at different ports. For example, a fisherman we sampled with from the Pictou Road area landed his catch at Caribou, which would be considered west of the outfall.
No discernable differences
So, with all those limitations in mind, we can look at the stock status reports for the relevant lobster fishing areas, and these don’t show any obvious differences between areas. In fact, catches in 26A have been very good in recent years, compared to LFAs to the east and west.
It is possible that DFO has individual fishermen’s logbook or sea sampling data that could be used to ask this question more accurately. Certainly, DFO could design a logbook and observer program that would definitely answer the question of whether or not the catches in the receiving area are significantly different than those from areas upstream or well downstream, and this is certainly something that should be implemented if the new treatment plant and pipeline system is put in place. It’s too bad this study hasn’t already been done.
Finally, although the data may not exist to test for differences in catch, the fishermen who fish in the outfall area are very aware of how their catches stack up against areas to the west and east. If these fishermen had consistently been landing smaller catches, they would have complained publicly. Modern fishermen are well organized, and the associations to which they belong aren’t shy to bring grievances to the public. Even though fishermen’s organizations are all opposed to the new pipeline, none of them have tried to make the case that fishermen from the receiving area have had catches compromised in the last couple of decades.
With a master’s student, we did some lobster sampling in July 2018, related to a project that established baseline levels of contaminants in lobsters prior to remediation of Boat Harbour (more about that later). We fished traps very close to the outfall, and caught lots of lobsters. Conversations with fishermen indicated that they do get lots of lobsters in the area of the outfall, especially in the early part of the season. In addition to large lobsters, the project also needed small ones, so a colleague who has extensive diving experience did some dives in the fall of 2018, approximately one kilometre to the east of the outfall. This area would likely be outside of the one per cent effluent zone with most wind and tide conditions, but still is quite close to the outfall. He observed that he had never seen as many large, adult lobsters as he observed on these dives.
The final report of the study mentioned earlier, entitled “American lobster (Homarus americanus) tissue sampling for trace metal(loid)s and organic contaminants: baseline report for Boat Harbour remediation project,” has recently been submitted to Nova Scotia Lands and Forestry. We found no significant difference in contaminant loading between the lobsters we caught from the outfall area vs. those caught off Big Island (20 kilometres to the east) or Ballantynes Cove (65 kilometres to the east). Again, you couldn’t design and carry out a more robust and ecologically relevant experiment than exposing lobster populations to treated effluent for the last 50 years, and yet the lobsters we sampled had no difference in contaminant load compared to reference sites. And remember, the present method of releasing the effluent does not mix and dilute it very efficiently.
Fishery has footprint, too
While we’re discussing the potential impact on lobster fisheries, I think the public needs to consider the environmental impact of the lobster fishery on the marine environment. I believe the inshore fishery is a vital economic driver in Atlantic Canada, and has shown itself to be sustainable. With respect to reducing its environmental impact, the fishery has made great advances in recent decades. Waste bins and waste-oil receptacles are now present on all wharves, and the vast majority of fishermen are very responsible in taking steps to minimize pollution of any kind. Most boats are now equipped with systems to remove some contaminants from the exhaust.
At the same time, there is certainly an environmental impact from the commercial fishery. Anti-fouling paints are applied periodically to the hundreds of fishing boats in the Northumberland Strait. These coatings are, by design, toxic to many forms of marine life, including larval crustaceans. They have to be re-applied on a regular basis, because they disassociate from the hulls, and go into the water.
There are spills of diesel fuel, hydraulic fluids, and engine lubricants, all of which have some degree of toxicity. Bilge pumps release some of these materials directly to the ocean. Most modern lobster boats have large diesel engines, and burn a lot of fuel in a season.
Underwater exhausts introduce many combustion products directly into the water. There is also the question of lost gear in many forms. I think most people realize that you can’t walk 10 metres of beach anywhere in Nova Scotia without encountering some marine litter from the industry, such as bands, bait bags, buoys, rope and parts of traps.
And you can’t build and maintain wharves and harbours every 30 kilometres or so along the coast without altering and disturbing habitat.
But this is where common sense comes in. We understand that if you’re going to have some activity in the marine environment, you will have some degree of impact. The public accepts that the benefits from the industry far outweigh the potential impact. And the huge dilution factor that comes with operating in the ocean quickly reduces the contaminants to levels where they have no obvious effects on marine life. So why shouldn’t we apply these same principles to the debate about the new treatment facility?
'Severe impact' view unsubstantiated
So, in summary, I feel the best measure of potential impacts of the proposed treatment facility/pipeline system is to look at the area of the Strait that has been receiving 60-80 million litres a day of treated effluent for decades.
What has the impact been? Seven cycles of the Environmental Effects Monitoring program since 1995 have shown very few differences between the area receiving very high concentrations of effluent compared to reference areas. Lobster catches in the area are very good, and lobsters do not avoid the outfall area. And finally, the lobsters in the outfall area do not have any different contaminant load than ones in reference areas.
And all of this needs to be considered in the context that the present release method for the effluent is very inefficient, with very poor mixing. And yet, we are not seeing any effects in the receiving area or lobster populations. Why, then, do so many people assume that the new pipeline/diffuser system will cause a severe impact on the fisheries? Where is the evidence for that assumption? I just don’t see it.
I understand that many people don’t like the pulp mill. They don’t like the look; they don’t like the smell. They feel the mill has lost its “social licence.” I don’t have any expertise to comment on those issues. But as far as the toxicity of the treated effluent and potential impacts on commercial fisheries and receiving ecosystems, I feel strongly that the proposed treatment facility and pipeline system can be designed and regulated to operate with negligible impact.
The devil is in the details, but the most important part of my main statement is the first part, “If we could guarantee that future Northern Pulp effluent is treated to the same level as it is at present, …”
Solution to pollution really is dilution
So I’ve talked about the toxicity of the treated effluent, and the potential impact on fisheries. Everything I’ve said depends on the future effluent being treated to a similar level as it is today. So, how do we guarantee that this will be the case?
First of all, we need to consider the two components of the effluent that are of most concern: the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and the total suspended sediment (TSS).
Let’s talk about the BOD first. When we release a liquid with dissolved organic material in it, whether it is effluent from a sewage treatment plant or a pulp and paper operation, there are bacteria in the ocean that use the organic material as a food source, and break it down.
These bacteria remove dissolved oxygen from the water to do this breakdown. The term BOD is a measure of how much oxygen will be removed from the water by the bacteria during this breakdown.
If the effluent BOD is really low, there will be very little change in dissolved oxygen levels. On the other hand, if the BOD is really high, the bacteria can reduce the oxygen in the water so much that organisms are affected, or even die. This is what happened in the early 1970s, when the effluent was basically untreated, and flowed into Boat Harbour with a really high BOD. The bacteria multiplied explosively with this new food source, and the breakdown turned Boat Harbour anoxic in days, and virtually every living thing died.
So, how do modern treatment plants reduce the BOD in the effluent?
It’s a really simple solution; they just provide the bacteria with the conditions they need, and the bacteria do the work for them. There’s already lots of “food” in the effluent, so treatment plants just have to provide them with lots of oxygen, in the form of aeration.
When you look at Boat Harbour in the satellite view of Google Earth, you can see white circles in the basin south of the harbour. These are huge aerators that are providing oxygen to the bacteria so they can reduce the BOD of the effluent. The raw effluent has a BOD of approximately 220 as it comes into the treatment facility. After 10 days in this aerated basin, the BOD is reduced to about 25 as it enters Boat Harbour, and about 15 as it leaves Boat Harbour and flows into the Northumberland Strait.
As the effluent flows out into the Strait, it mixes with seawater, and this dilutes the effluent and reduces the BOD even more. At these levels, with the dilution of seawater, there isn’t any impact in terms of reduction of dissolved oxygen, as shown by the EEM sampling of animals living in the receiving area.
Many people object to the phrase “the solution to pollution is dilution,” but in most cases in the marine environment, this is true. When we release any effluent into the marine environment, whether it is treated pulp and paper effluent or waste from a municipal sewage treatment plant, our goal is to quickly dilute it with seawater so that the dose is so low that there is no significant effect on organisms.
A good analogy of this is exhaust from a vehicle. I can stand next to the drive-thru at Timmies and have a conversation with a friend, while a dozen vehicles are idling in the line (environmentalists hate this, too, but that’s a different article). Except for the odd whiff of exhaust, we aren’t affected in the parking lot because the exhaust is quickly diluted with air to a very low dose. But if my friend and I are in a closed garage with those vehicles running, carbon monoxide levels would quickly increase to the point where we could lose consciousness or die.
What regulators control
So in the case of any effluent released into the ocean, regulators control what is released, how much is released (these are in the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations, PPER) and also regulate how quickly the effluent is diluted, for example to the one per cent level. So, the zone near the end of the pipe(s) is where you expect the most impact, and it reduces as you move away from there, and the effluent is diluted. At some point, you have reached a level of dilution where there is no measurable effect.
So how do we ensure that the effluent will be treated to the same level with the proposed plant? This is where the federal PPER come into play. These regulate pulp mills and specify how much BOD can be released. At present, the NP mill is treating the effluent to a level that is much better than required by the PPER. The mill is allowed to release 7,500 kg/day of BOD; it has been averaging under 2,000 kg/day for the last decade.
The federal PPER regulations are being rewritten at this moment, and the first-draft proposed numbers (which are referred to in the focus report, Appendix 2.4) are encouraging, with both BOD and TSS reduced to about one-third of current levels. With these limits, NP would be allowed to (approximately) release a maximum of 2,700 kg/day of BOD, which would be an increase, but not a huge one.
The focus report from NP predicts a BOD level of 1,875 kg/day, which would be lower than today’s levels. In addition, regardless of which mixing model is used, no one can deny that the dilution of effluent with a multi-diffuser system, released at a depth of 20 metres, will be hundreds of times more efficient than the system used at present.
This will lead to a much smaller zone where there may be some impact. Personally, I’d like to see NP held to produce the same quality of treated effluent as it does today, but I don’t know how that can be done in a legal framework. It is like saying the speed limit is 100 km/h, but we’ll limit one driver to 70 km/h.
Particularities of particulates
The other key component of the effluent is total suspended solids (TSS). This stuff is made up of non-organic particles, like silt and clay, as well as organic particles like dead bacteria, plant material, and so on. These particles are so small that they take a long time to settle out, and as long as the liquid is moving, they are carried along.
At present, the mill is allowed to release 11,500 kg/day of TSS; it’s averaged about 1,500 kg/day in recent years. The new PPER regulations would allow the mill to release approximately 3,800 kg/day of TSS, which would be more than double what it releases today. In the proposed system, the focus report predicts 1,875 kg/day of TSS in the treated effluent; if achieved, this would be a minimal increase over today’s levels.
There are mathematical models that are used to predict where the TSS will eventually settle out, after it leaves the diffusers. In an ideal situation, this material would be spread out over a very large area. In the worst-case scenario, there would be a lot of buildup in one area, and the bottom habitat could be affected.
The new EEM program should be designed to assess sediment deposition, with coring and possible sediment traps deployed upstream and downstream of the diffusers. There was quite a bit of sediment coring carried out along the proposed pipeline route. This information is useful as a “before” picture of sediment in the area of the diffusers, but more cores should be taken along the tidal prism upstream and downstream of the diffuser site. Ideally, this would be done before startup, to allow regulators to measure background levels of sedimentation, and evaluate changes with the new system.
Public information portal
The other program I’d like to see implemented would be an information portal so that the general public could access the results of effluent quality testing. Weekly averages for BOD and TSS could be posted, as well as the results of the weekly and monthly toxicity testing. I don’t think there’s any information here that would put the mill at a competitive disadvantage, and providing the information in a timely and transparent manner should help with acceptance by the general public.
DFO should also design and implement an intense data collection program, using observer coverage, for all fishing activity (but particularly lobster) in the area immediately downstream of the diffuser area, as well as a suitable reference area. The program should begin this summer, and continue during the construction and operation of the new treatment facility. This study should be able to detect any reduction in catches due to effluent release.
I do have some concerns with the proposed treatment facility. The present effluent treatment facility is much larger in surface area and volume than the proposed system, and it has one big advantage over the smaller, more intense activated sludge treatment (AST) system, in that it is very resilient.
Things happen at the mill, sometimes by design, sometimes by accident, and these can result in chemical changes in the raw effluent. Some changes could affect the bacteria that are doing most of the work in treating the effluent, reducing their efficiency, or even causing the system to crash.
With the present system, there is a lot of capacity to divert and hold effluent that could affect the bacteria. The primary settling ponds can hold almost a day’s worth of effluent, and the operators can slowly release it back into the effluent stream at a rate that won’t affect the bacteria.
In addition, the big aerated basin holds almost 10 days worth of effluent, so the high volumes makes the system less likely to crash. The proposed system is a much lower volume, and there is only a spill capacity of about 10-13 hours worth of effluent. Personally, I’d like to see more volume in the spill basin, even if it was a secondary spill basin that was only used for emergencies. The focus report does state that “steps will be taken up to and including slowing down or stopping pulp production, to manage upset conditions in a manner that does not see untreated effluent released from the mill site.”
Personally, I’d like to see this formalized and incorporated into the operating licence for the mill, with clearly stated triggers related to effluent quality. In other words, if treated effluent is not meeting the standard, then there are a set of steps that have to be taken to prevent continued release of substandard effluent.
A new framework
Finally, I feel we need some sort of regulatory framework so that if the conditions of the licence are not met by the new system, there is a requirement that the mill address this in a timely manner. If the mill is unable to meet the target requirements, pulp production should slow or cease until such time that the situation is rectified.
A lot of people are skeptical of the predicted performance of the proposed treatment facility, and they feel that once it is built, it will continue to operate regardless of the quality of the effluent.
So in addition to the PPER, I feel the mill should have performance targets that have to be met with the new treatment facility. These targets could include actual measurements of mixing and dilution, distribution/deposition of suspended solids, and quality of the effluent. This type of governance structure is out of my area of expertise, and would involve some imagination and innovation on the part of regulators, but it would begin the process to reassure the public that the facility is achieving its performance targets, and operating as it should. The information portal mentioned earlier provides some transparency and accountability for performance measurements.
There is also a valid question of who should be the policeman for mill performance. It’s likely that the province will be footing a part of the bill for the new treatment facility, and the province already has had its impartiality questioned in terms of legal and financial connections to mill operation. In Canada, the oversight for mill operation and performance is a provincial jurisdiction, although Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) does provide PPER guidelines, and oversees the design of the EEM programs.
At least for the first five years, I’d like to see the creation of some sort of independent review panel with representatives from ECCC, DFO, and academics. This committee would examine and consider performance and monitoring information from the new treatment facility, and make recommendations to the province.
In summary, I’ve provided what I believe is a common-sense assessment of effluent toxicity, impact on fisheries, and some conditions I would like to see met for the proposed treatment facility.
Some may say it is overly simplistic, but I feel the evidence speaks for itself. I sincerely believe that forestry and fisheries can continue to co-exist in northern Nova Scotia, as they have for the last 50 years, and I am glad that a remediated Boat Harbour will soon be returned to the people of Pictou Landing First Nation.
I wish I could suggest a solution to the time crunch that is before us, but I can’t. I do believe that the mill has contributed to the urgency, as it was slow to act for a period of time after the Boat Harbour legislation was passed.
If the assessment of the proposed treatment facility passes to the federal government, which seems likely, more time will be needed, and I’m not sure an extension can be negotiated that will satisfy all parties in time to prevent mill closure, and the needless loss of an important economic driver in the region.
Jim Williams is a research professor at St. F.X. university. As a marine ecologist, he has carried out research in the coastal zone of the Northumberland Strait for 20 years. Prior to that, he did a post-doctoral fellowship with DFO, where they examined the effects of pulp and paper mills, including the one in Pictou, on estuarine fish.
- Northern Pulp, affiliate company owe Nova Scotia government more than $85 million
- JIM VIBERT: Northern Pulp question won’t be ‘speculative’ much longer
- JIM VIBERT: Nova Scotia government’s credibility on the line with Northern Pulp decision
- Nova Scotia had secret pact with Northern Pulp to share environmental assessment costs
- STEPHEN McNEIL: Setting the record straight on Northern Pulp
NORTHERN PULP: What's next and who's left holding the bag
- Part 1: Successive governments signed away Nova Scotia taxpayers
- Part 2: A frightened forestry industry is tied to mill’s fate
- Part 3: Economic threat strains Pictou County’s social fabric
- Part 4: The Northumberland Strait is unhealthy and there’s blame to go around