Ecojustice Case – Healthy communities Case Status: In Progress

Fighting to protect the sensitive environment of the Northumberland Strait

Sarah McDonald, Articling StudentSarah McDonaldLawyer
James Gunvaldsen KlaassenLawyer
Friends of the Northumberland StraitClient
Photo of the Northumberland Strait
Photo by Rod Brazier (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Since the mid-sixties, Northern Pulp has dumped millions of gallons of toxic effluent from its pulp mill into Boat Harbour, Nova Scotia — located adjacent to Pictou Landing First Nation — each and every day. 

The continued use of Boat Harbour as a toxic dumping ground has been labelled  one of the worst cases of environmental racism in the province and has been associated with numerous effluent leaks and the accumulation of chemicals, solids and heavy metals — including dioxins, furans and heavy metals, like mercury, zinc and chromium — in a place of cultural significance to the Pictou Landing First Nation. 

In 2015, the provincial government passed legislation that would require Northern Pulp to cease using Boat Harbour to treat its effluent by January 31, 2020. In a last ditch effort to stay operational, the company proposed a new system that would treat its effluent on site and then carry it through a 15km-long pipeline into the prime fishing grounds of the Northumberland Strait. 

This new project brought with it numerous concerns about its risks to air, water, fish and human health from the Pictou Landing First Nation, community groups — including Friends of the Northumberland Strait — and fishers from across the Maritimes.

In 2018, to help raise concerns about Northern Pulp’s proposed new plan, we teamed up with Friends of the Northumberland Strait to protect the sensitive environment of the Northumberland Strait.

Since then, the Nova Scotia government has ordered a full environmental assessment report for Northern Pulp’s proposed new treatment facility, the company has been forced to stop using Boat Harbour to dump its effluent from the pulping process, and the mill has suspended its operations.


Why was Ecojustice involved?

The Northumberland Strait is home to rich fisheries and contains spawning grounds for many types of marine life, including lobster, scallops, herring, tuna and Atlantic salmon. Keeping the Northumberland Strait healthy is vital to the surrounding communities, fishers and local businesses. 

That’s why Ecojustice joined forces with Friends of the Northumberland Strait to successfully make the case that Northern Pulp did not provide solid scientific evidence to show that its new project could be built and operated without causing irreparable environmental harm — and that the Nova Scotia government should reject Northern Pulp’s plan. 


What does this victory mean?

The Nova Scotia government’s decision to stand by its promise to close Boat Harbour on January 31, 2020 and order a new environmental assessment means the company can’t move forward with its project until it files a full environmental assessment report. This is good news for Pictou Landing First Nation, the environment and fishers in the region.  

While Northern Pulp’s operations might currently be on hold, the company has filed a case challenging the government’s order requiring them to submit a full environmental assessment report. 

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