New Study Shows Northern Pulp Plant Emissions Exceeded Federal Threshold by 100,000%

Dalhousie University researchers monitoring air pollutants released by Atlantic Canada’s pulp and paper industry for nearly two decades say emissions from the Northern Pulp operation in Nova Scotia were higher than any other factories combined — and exceeded federal recommended thresholds for particulate matter by a “staggering” 100,000 percent.

Paper Excellence, the factory’s owner, says the reporting thresholds are not the same as the environmental standards, which it adheres to. The plant closed in 2020 after failing to gain approval for a proposed effluent treatment facility.

The School for Resource and Environmental Studies used publicly available government data to compare annual air emissions of seven pollutants from nine factories in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador between 2002 and 2019 .

For most of that time, Northern Pulp in Pictou County has significantly exceeded maximum thresholds set by Environment and Climate Change Canada for a pollutant known as Total Particulate Matter 2.5.

“It’s the smallest particle that can be ingested into the lungs and affect human health,” said Tony Walker, co-author of a paper based on research by graduate student Gianina Massa.

“It passed the 100,000 percent threshold. It was astounding when we compared that to the other factories.”

“Massive overruns”

Those levels dropped dramatically after Paper Excellence installed a machine called a precipitator to capture the particles in 2015.

“To put this into context, other factories with similar operations were … reasonably and comfortably below these reporting thresholds prior to 2016,” Walker said.

“But I wonder why it has gone on for so long that there have not only been even moderate overshoots, but such massive overshoots for so long.”

Most factories above thresholds

The study compared the annual releases of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, total particulate matter (TPM), PM2.5, PM10, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds reported to the Inventory national level of pollutant discharges.

Estimated annual releases above the lower limits trigger mandatory self-reporting to the registry, but there are no repercussions for exceeding them.

The recommended thresholds are not environmental standards, but are part of a “best practice” approach adopted by the federal government.

The researchers report that overall annual releases from Atlantic mills were “several orders of magnitude” higher than the federal reporting thresholds suggested by Environment and Climate Change Canada. Pulp mills generated higher pollution loads than those producing paper.

“Since most of the time all the factories exceeded the reporting thresholds, it would be useful to compare the dangerousness of these releases with the inclusion of an upper limit or threshold or to change the unit of statement to allow comparison with other standards and countries,” reads the study.

Northern Pulp Response

“The study in question confuses reporting thresholds with actual environmental standards. The reporting threshold referred to in the report obliges a factory to report when it exceeds this threshold. This does not mean that the factory exceeded an environmental standard,” the company said. said in an email response to CBC News.

Northern Pulp said its industry approval from Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change requires that fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions from the facility do not contribute to an exceedance of ambient air quality standards. for fine particles.

“Since Paper Excellence acquired Northern Pulp and the installation of ambient air monitoring stations in 2011, there has never been a exceedance of standards. To be more precise, since that time Northern Pulp has always been within the PM2.5 ambient emissions standard,” reads the company’s statement.

The statement failed to mention that for three consecutive years – 2015, 2016 and 2017 – air contaminant emissions exceeded levels set in its industry approval. He also made no reference to the legal challenge the company has launched regarding the terms of its industrial approval, including particulate levels.

Northern Pulp told CBC News that the study confuses reporting thresholds with actual environmental standards. (Jill English/CBC)

On Tuesday, Paper Excellence announced it was going to court to overturn the mandate for the environmental assessment of its proposed plan to reopen the mill.

The company says the terms are “unreasonable in several areas, including failing to establish definitive limits, standards and regulations that must be adhered to.”

The province maintains “that it is up to the proponent[…]determine the overall impact of the project and recommend specific limits that a particular receiving environment can withstand”.

Stands for study and conclusions

Tony Walker says federal thresholds need work.

“What we sort of pointed out as a recommendation in the document was why even have the lower threshold in the first place if nothing is really done about it?” he said.

The study recommends an upper limit from which emission levels would be considered a risk and subject to sanctions.

“Then we have teeth in enforcement, or at least a policy can be implemented whereby factories or… other facilities can be assessed for their risk to environmental human health.

He acknowledged that the levels are not an environmental standard, “but when compared to comparable industries in the region, Northern Pulp clearly does not meet the code of practice recommended by Environment and Climate Change Canada.