Northern Pulp Mill shut down by NS Premier; 3,000 jobs lost to save “environmental integrity”

On December 20, Nova Scotia's Liberal premier Stephen McNeil made a decision that would devastate Pictou County, Nova Scotia and along with it, nearly 3,000 Nova Scotia families.

McNeil announced that he would not be amending the Boat Harbour Act to allow Northern Pulp to continue to use lagoons in nearby Boat Harbour to treat pulp mill effluent.

The decision means the mill must close by the end of January of this year, killing up to 350 jobs at the plant  and 2,700 forestry-related jobs.

The decision comes after a promise McNeil made to the Pictou Landing First Nation in 2015. He assured the band that Northern's effluent treatment facility at Boat Harbor, next to the First Nation, would have to close. The band alleged that Boat Harbor was heavily polluted after five decades of treating the mill’s wastewater, and the government”s decades long lack of action amounted to environmental racism.

But is that true? Are the waters of Boat Harbour an environmental dead zone?

Not according to a research scientist named Jon Williams who penned an op-ed Chronicle Herald to dispel the myths about the water in Boat Harbour:

“First of all, the present-day treated [Northern Pulp] effluent is not toxic. In Canada, we require that all pulp and paper companies have toxicity tests performed on their treated effluent. [Northern Pulp]-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.

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 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.

I think McNeil feels guilty for the past mistreatment of the Pictou Landing First Nation, and so he's willing to ignore the scientific evidence and offer 3,000 jobs as a sacrifice to make amends.