This once pristine tidal estuary, Boat Harbour has been used as an industrial waste lagoon for the Abercrombie pulp mill (now Northern Pulp) near Pictou for 50 years. Photo courtesy Dave Gunning.
The documents obtained by the Halifax Examiner indicate that KSH told MacPhail that the “receiving water study,” which was being assembled by the consulting firm Stantec, aims to find out what the Northumberland Strait’s “capacity” is to assimilate the nutrient waste that would be coming from the mill’s new plant. This information would then allow the Nova Scotia Department of Environment (NSE) to establish the “effluent discharge limits” or “end of pipe” limits — a subject we will return to.
As previously reported in Part 1 of the Dirty Dealing series, more than a decade ago AMEC Earth & Environmental was hired by the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to do an assessment of the Northumberland Strait ecosystem. AMEC reported that there were areas in the Strait that were “anoxic” or completely lacking in oxygen, a condition that results from “excessive nutrient inputs with effects on the wider biotic communities of the Strait.” The study identified a number of threats to the marine ecosystem, including rising water temperatures, rising water levels, and pollution — pollution from agricultural runoff, the pulp and paper mill, municipal waste, and fish plant effluent.
Let’s be clear: The complete lack of oxygen kills marine life. Very low oxygen levels can also be lethal to fish and other sea life, including lobster, and can cause large-scale mortality. Low oxygen can also result in sub-lethal effects like reduced growth and trouble reproducing. Fish have been known to abandon low-oxygen areas altogether.
The AMEC study even went so far as to identify that addressing the issue of increases in nutrients from land-based sources, including the pulp and paper mill, was the “most important marine environmental quality issue in the near shore areas” and the “highest priority for investigation.”
Given the knowledge that currently exists about the already fragile state of the Northumberland Strait, it would not be unfounded to seriously question the wisdom of pumping an unrelenting and gargantuan volume of oxygen-depleting wastewater into it.
In other words, if the nutrient pollution is already bad, dumping more nutrient pollution will likely make it worse.