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‘I’m terrified nothing’s going to survive’: Pictou County man worried effluent has spread to his wetland property

William Rowsell points to an area near his Pictou Landing where pollution from a ruptured Northern Pulp has invaded this tidal wetland.
William Rowsell points to an area near his Pictou Landing where pollution from a ruptured Northern Pulp has invaded this tidal wetland. - Kevin Adshade

PICTOU LANDING, NS - There are few things William Rowsell enjoys more than strolling through his wetland property and being at one with nature.

Except on Oct. 23.

After returning from work, Rowsell picked up his newspaper and learned about a leak in the pipeline that carries effluent from Northern Pulp. From the information in the story, he began to worry about his own property – located downhill of where the spill occurred.

Rowsell hurried out the door and crossed the road to his property, a spot where he loves watching the tides come in and migrating birds gather. A muskrat often draws his attention, and the water is so clear he often sees fish swimming along when the tide is in.

Not anymore.

Rowsell says effluent from the spill has flowed downhill and onto his property on Shady Lane.

“It’s extremely sludgy, almost an oily sludge,” he said. “It was clear water here just yesterday. I could see fish in it.”

Rowsell contacted the provincial environment department, which had been called to the scene of the spill to investigate Oct. 21 after the leak was first reported by a man out for his morning walk. He was still awaiting a call back late in the afternoon Oct. 23.

“They were here doing the cleanup, but now everyone’s gone,” he said.

“Nobody contacted me, I haven’t seen anybody here doing clean up. It’s like they cleaned off the top of the hill where the leak was and didn’t look downhill.”

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Kathy Cloutier, director of corporate communications for Paper Excellence Canada (owner of Northern Pulp), said in response to inquiries about the possibility that effluent has spread to Rowsell’s property that “an investigation is underway, which includes samples that were taken earlier today.”

Bruce Nunn, a spokesperson with the provincial environment department, says it’s Northern Pulp’s responsibility to have the effluent leak site cleaned up by a site professional, usually an engineer or environmental firm.

While he didn’t have immediate information available on Rowsell’s case and couldn’t speak to the specifics about the Northern Pulp effluent leak, Nunn says that cleanup of sites for spills “generally takes some time to do because they have to be pretty thorough.”

He added that it’s up to the site professional to determine the extent of the spill and where it may have spread. He encouraged Rowsell to contact the local environment department to report the problem and ensure it was included in the cleanup.

Rowsell says his property – several acres of wetland - is only about 1,500 feet from the site of the spill.

“There’s still grass and weeds growing everywhere, so it’s hard to know how much is here,” he said.

“I’m terrified nothing’s going to survive,” he said.

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