Fighting to protect the sensitive environment of the Northumberland Strait

Northern Pulp et al. v Nova Scotia (Environment) et al.
Photo by Rod Brazier (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Program area – Healthy communities Status: In progress
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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 different 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 proposal 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 plan, we teamed up with Friends of the Northumberland Strait to protect the sensitive environment of the Northumberland Strait.

In 2019, the the Nova Scotia government has ordered a full environmental assessment report for Northern Pulp’s proposed treatment facility, the company was forced to stop using Boat Harbour to dump its effluent from the pulping process, and the mill suspended its operations.

Due to our work and the work of the Friends of the Northumberland Strait and many others, in 2021, Northern Pulp decided to change its proposal and seek approval for a redesigned treatment facility. In 2021, Environment and Climate Change Minister Keith Irving announced that a proposed $350 million revamp of the mill will undergo a Class 2 environmental assessment, which is more stringent and takes longer than a Class 1 assessment.

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 has never provided solid scientific evidence to show that it could discharge effluent into the Strait without causing irreparable environmental harm — and that the Nova Scotia government should reject Northern Pulp’s plan.

The Nova Scotia government’s decision to stand by its promise to close Boat Harbour on January 31, 2020 was 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 is again trying to get approval to dump its effluent into the Strait. Ecojustice remains committed to ensuring local communities and ecosystems will be protected if the project goes forward.

Key developments

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