There is no safe level of particulates

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To the editor,
Driving home from Truro recently, just as the clear blue sky began to change to the familiar Pictou County grey, I was struck by how odd it is that Northern Pulp is allowed to be in operation even though their precipitator – a critical piece of air pollution filtration equipment – is not installed, let alone functioning.

Inevitably this would mean the large mass of gas creating the haze over Pictou County consists of numerous chemicals we should not be breathing.

Northern Pulp openly reported to Environment Canada that their facility released 1,011 tons of particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) into the air in 2012 alone. The amount that Environment Canada deems noteworthy is 0.3 tons per year.

From Wikipedia I found that “The World Health Organization designates particulates a Group 1 carcinogen. Particulates are the deadliest form of air pollution due to the ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstreams unfiltered, causing permanent DNA mutations, heart attacks and premature death. In 2013, a Danish study involving 312,944 people in nine European countries revealed there was no safe level of particulates. The smaller PM 2.5 were particularly deadly, with a 36 per cent increase in lung cancer per 10 μg/m3 as it can penetrate deeper into the lungs.”

What I found so odd, is that you or I are not allowed to operate our cars and trucks without proper emission control. My truck would be deemed illegal to be on the road if its catalytic converter was not working. The precipitator that is not working at Northern Pulp and my catalytic converter, by definition, perform pretty much the same task. Filtration systems are used to remove some particulates and/or gases from industrial exhaust streams, while a catalytic converter is a vehicle emissions control device that converts toxic pollutants in exhaust gas to less toxic pollutants.

So, our laws state, I cannot emit exhaust gas into the air, gas that has been proven harmful to people. Sounds fair, I agree completely. However, Northern Pulp has continuously been permitted to operate with malfunctioning air pollution filtration equipment since 2006 and in one 12-month period released 1011 tons of a proven carcinogenic into the air we breathe, and they do not need to stop.

How is this possible? For safety reasons why would the mill not have to stop operating, just like we would have to take our vehicles off the road, until a time when they have a proper emission control system in place? If you or I drove our cars illegally for eight years and the justice system knew about it, we would probably end up behind bars; we certainly wouldn’t be allowed to keep driving our illegal vehicles. Yet, our “justice system” allows the mill to continue pumping a known carcinogenic and other toxins into the air at alarming rates.

No one wants to see the mill permanently closed, jobs lost, or economic benefits from the mill gone, but for us to sit back and do nothing when we know the facts is unacceptable. I would ask that we as a community demand more from our legal system, our Department of Environment and our elected officials. There is no excuse good enough to warrant the health of our families being put in jeopardy for the sake of profit.

Please reach out to Peter MacKay, our MP and Justice Minister, let him know you care about the air we breathe. I believe there are federal laws in place protecting the Indonesian owned pulp mill from local interference, so it is not an easy task to have it stop production, but Minister MacKay needs to put our health and safety ahead of the profits of Sinar Mas (Northern Pulp’s Parent Company) and fight for what is best for the people of his community. Many of us have had to breathe in this polluted air our entire lives. Let’s make a change so our children and grandchildren will not have to as well. 

Shane Sponagle


Organizations: Environment Canada, World Health Organization, Department of Environment Parent Company

Geographic location: Northern Pulp, Pictou County

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Recent comments

  • Circle A Ranch
    June 07, 2014 - 11:14

    Well said Shane.Most people who are not effected first hand will be more likely to sit on there hands and think nothing of it. Money has and will always over ride people and health concerns ,especially where Government is concerned.I will call MacKay with my concerns.As for european studies,they could show toxic levels that could kill in there country but the Canadian government has there head so far in the back side of big money there is no way they would agree with a well prepared independant foreign study!Just ask Health Canada about foods that have shown health concerns in other countries,even the State of California,but health Canada have deemed them safe.Go figure!