Nova Scotia’s Environment Minister Iain Rankin has ordered Northern Pulp to make stack tests at the Pictou County mill public on its website until its industrial approval expires in 2020. (CHRISTIAN LAFORCE / File)
The province has ordered Northern Pulp to address issues with its power boiler that have resulted in failed stack tests.
Environment Minister Iain Rankin has ordered the company to make stack tests at the Pictou County mill public on its website until its industrial approval expires in 2020. That industrial approval requires the mill to operate its power boiler within a measure of 150 milligrams per referenced cubic metre of particulate or fine dust emissions. The June 2017 stack test showed the power boiler tested at 224 milligrams per referenced cubic metre.
The Environment Department also served the company a summary offence ticket for $697.50 for failing to comply with the terms and conditions of its industrial approval.
“That’ll learn ’em,” Matt Gunning, a longtime member of the Clean Up The Pictou County Mill group, said sarcastically about the fine.
But Gunning said the ministerial order is a positive move.
“Almost everything comes down to transparency and accountability,” Gunning said. “That’s what we have been pushing for. The fine amount is not the deterrent. It’s the ministerial order that comes with it. That’s the important part. The (fine) amount is laughable but it’s symbolic, as long as it’s symbolic of the government taking a step in the right direction.”
Rankin, sworn in as environment minister in June, said the ministerial order is about ensuring transparency. “The communities surrounding the mill have asked for more information about these stack tests and this order should help address these concerns and enhance transparency,” Rankin said in a release.
The order requires the company to provide the department with its external consultant reports, as well as any reports for the two audits completed on the power boiler and the power boiler emission control equipment this past summer. The company must also provide the department with all training records related to the power boiler.
The mill is scheduled for a shutdown this month. The order requires the company to provide the department with detailed reports about what is planned for the shutdown, when the shutdown is completed, and what the company achieved to bring the power boiler into compliance.
“As a regulator, my focus is making sure companies comply with provincial regulations and within their industrial approvals,” Rankin said. “In the past, if the Northern Pulp mill exceeded its limits, we have worked with the company to get the mill back into compliance. This recent stack test result is evidence that more work and enforcement are needed to ensure the power boiler is operating properly.”
As part of its industrial approval, Northern Pulp is required to conduct power boiler stack tests four times a year. These tests are a proactive way to catch and address any problems with the boiler before it potentially causes a larger environmental issue.
In June 2016, the boiler tested at a level of 164 milligrams of particulate or fine dust emissions per reference cubic metre, exceeding the limit for the second time in the previous five regulatory tests conducted at that point. While the fine dust emissions exceeded regulations by less than 10 per cent in those tests, the June 2017 test showed emissions exceeding the regulated limit by about 50 per cent.
In June 2016, the mill was also issued a $697.50 summary offence ticket.
In contrast to the power boiler, the $35-million recovery boiler electrostatic precipitator that has been in operation for 26 months has been performing very well. The recovery boiler has consistently tested below the 77-milligram particulate level stipulated in the mill’s industrial approval.
Kathy Cloutier, the company’s communications director, said after last year’s failed stack test that the power boiler accounts for a much smaller portion of overall mill particulate than does the recovery boiler.
Pictou’s ambient air measures are well below the national average, according to Health Canada’s guidelines, when it comes to health measures, and have been since 2014 when the new precipitator was installed.