HALIFAX – The Green Party is speaking out about environmental and health concerns surrounding operations at Northern Pulp.
In a joint statement the leaders of the Green Party of Nova Scotia and Canada called on both the provincial and federal governments to take immediate steps to ensure compliance with air quality and water quality standards and to take immediate steps to ensure the health and safety of residents living nearby.
Nova Scotia Green Party deputy leader Brynn Nheiley said she is learning more and more that the health risks posed by the Northern Pulp mill are unacceptable.
“This mill continues to operate under such conditions at the expense of all other industries and businesses in the region,” said Nheiley. “Immediate steps must be taken to bring this mill into compliance of established health and environmental regulations.”
In collaboration with the Green Party of Canada, she called on the provincial government to enforce regulations designed to protect the health of its citizens or impose significant penalties on the mill.
“The notion that any community across Nova Scotia must choose between their jobs or their health and the health of their loved ones is false,” said Nheiley. “We must work together with our aboriginal and non-aboriginal residents as we look for a long-term solution.”
Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also called on federal Minister of Health Rona Ambrose to conduct an independent epidemiological health study of the rates of cancer and other diseases in Pictou County.
May, a Green Party candidate in Central Nova in 2008, stated her concern over allegedly increasing health risks posed to those living near the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County.
“Statements made by mill representatives, I believe, are designed to delay the need for action,” she said.
Northern Pulp spokesperson David MacKenzie disagrees, stating the mill is currently responding to the compliance directives issued by the provincial Department of Environment in accordance with the timelines.
Those guidelines instruct Northern Pulp to construct a new recovery boiler electrostatic precipitator to be installed by May 2015 and commissioned to be compliant with regulatory standards.
“Our vision is that Northern Pulp will become the best-in-its-class and be sustainable both environmentally and economically,” said MacKenzie. “We can't do that overnight as that process takes time, progress is being made and the new electrostatic precipitator will bring us well into compliance.”
Nheiley said the two parties had been following concerns and issues in Pictou County and decided that a statement was necessary because of concerns and discussions in all the media lately.
“Our membership began to contact us so Elizabeth and I started talking about how we’d address it in joint release,” she said. “As a party, we wanted to let the province to have opportunity to address issues at the mill. But we found that now is the time to respond to what we see as the lax pressure on mill to clean emissions.”
Northern Pulp is currently undergoing stack testing, which examines the contents and volume of emissions from four locations. The testing, mandated by Nova Scotia Environment, is being carried out by Stantec and takes around a week to complete.
While Nheiley indicated that the environmental and health situation is serious and that a spring 2015 deadline for the new precipitator is too far in the future, she stopped short of calling for the mill to be shutdown until the new precipitator is up and running.
“We think that action to fix the emissions needs to happen in a more immediate way. We would like the government to take action because these deadlines seem open-ended since these issues have been ongoing.“
Both Green parties acknowledge the jobs at the pulp mill but state that discussions around compliance and regulations shouldn’t be about jobs.
“The argument that you have to choose between your health and a job is ridiculous,” said May.
Nheiley noted these lingering environmental and health issues surrounding the mill at Abercrombie Point could serve as a litmus test for other businesses across the country.
“Our concern is how this will be reflected through the province and country,” she said. “Basically, they’re able to disregard regulations and not focus on the impacts happening today.”
May stated that the federal party is working closely with the Nova Scotia provincial Green Party and will assist in any way they can to help find a solution for the residents of Pictou County.
A representative from the Department of Environment was unavailable for comment.
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn