Controversial pulp mill treatment plant near Pictou Landing to close in 2020: province

Trina Roache
APTN National News
The chief of the Pictou Landing First Nation is encouraged by news that a nearby treatment plant will close.

Since the 1960s, a pulp mill several kilometres away has piped 25-million gallons of toxic wastewater a day into Boat Harbour. Friday, the Nova Scotia government announced that will end by January 2020.

“I have the personal assurance of Premier Stephen McNeil that the treatment facility will be closed this time,” said Chief Andrea Paul.

Still, Paul is wary over a history of broken promises by the province to clean up Boat Harbour.

The tidal lagoon was traditionally used by the Mi’kmaq for fishing and recreation. They call it A’seg (the other room). Over the years, the toxins dumped there have led to a cultural loss and concerns over the impacts on health. Community members call it a case of environmental racism.

Living by the treatment plant, and the pulp mill, means living with a horrible stench of sulphur every day said Paul.

“Our community is looking forward to breathing fresh air and removing contaminated sediment from Boat Harbour,” said Paul. “I only hope that our elders are still alive to see it happen, since they are the ones who remember what the community has missed out on in Boat Harbour.”

Once the plant at Boat Harbour is shut down, clean up can begin. The province has committed $52.3 million. It’s part of an agreement the province reached with Pictou Landing after a protest last June.

A pipe carrying effluent from the mill to the Boat Harbour broke and leaked toxic, untreated wastewater and the pulp mill had to shut down. Band members blockaded the area to keep the mill from fixing the broken pipe. After five days, chief and council came to an agreement with the province.

“We had asked for an earlier date based on information we received from independent engineers we hired to study the project,” said Paul. “But we were not able to agree with the Province on the closure date.”

Still, Paul said this Friday’s announcement is good news.

Band member Jonathan Beadle agrees.

“I’m genuinely glad they decided on a date for the closure of BHTF. I still have many questions as a result of what has taken place,” said Beadle.

Some of those questions still unanswered are around where the new treatment facility will be built. Talks over that between the pulp mill and the province still have to happen.

“We are examining the new legislation that we first saw (Friday). We are assessing our options to ensure existing contractual agreements and obligations made by the province to the Mill are honoured,” said Bruce Chapman, general manager of Northern Pulp, in a statement. “Northern Pulp is prepared to work with government to ensure these contractual obligations will be honoured.”

The province said it will be looking for the mill to throw in some cash to help with the clean-up. Testing is on-going to determine final amounts of contaminants. Though, for the most part, officials do know what has settled at the bottom of Boat Harbour. A government report details the list of chemicals – by-products of making paper.

Among them, zinc, cadmium and mercury. Cancer-causing dioxins and furans, formed when the wood pulp is bleached, are also present in small amounts.

The community has been part of a health research project for the last three years to find out the impacts of living so close to Boat Harbour. Those findings aren’t published yet. But anecdotally, the community has reported higher rates of cancer and asthma and skin conditions for years.

The clean-up could take 10 years once the plant is closed in 2020.

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Trina Roache brings 18 years of journalistic experience to APTN Investigates. A member of the Glooscap First Nation in unceded Mi’kmaw territory, Trina has covered Indigenous issues from politics to land protection, treaty rights and more. In 2014, Trina won the Journalists for Human Rights/CAJ award for her series on Jordan’s Principle. She was nominated again in 2017 for a series on healthcare issues in the remote Labrador community of Black Tickle. Trina’s favorite placed is behind the camera, and is honoured when the people living the story, trust her to tell it.

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