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Boat Harbour contamination from pulp and paper industry, Nova Scotia, Canada

Boat Harbour wastewater lagoon is Nova Scotia’s largest contaminated site. Both the levels and toxicity of contaminants are serious. The Pictou Landing First Nation has been fighting against environmental racism.


Boat Harbour wastewater lagoon is Nova Scotia’s largest contaminated site, for which both the levels and severity of contaminants remain uncertain (Gorman, 2018). In 1964 the tidal estuary of Boat Harbour, just east of the Pictou Landing First Nation, began receiving effluent piped from the new pulp and paper mill at Abercrombie Point. Besides the mill's effluent, Boat Harbour also had untreated chemicals poured directly into it by former mill supplier Canso Chemicals. Located in the same area from 1971-1992, Canso produced chlorine, caustic soda, and hydrogen for use at the mill (Dillion Consulting Ltd, 2017; Environment Canada, 2013). Canso was unable to account for annual mercury losses of several tons during the 1970’s, including a peak loss of five tons in 1975. This unresolved loss lead to concerns that mercury was accumulating in Boat Harbour (Canadian Press, 1977).  

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Boat Harbour contamination from pulp and paper industry, Nova Scotia, Canada
State or province:Nova Scotia
Location of conflict:Pictou Landing
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Chemical industries
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific commodities:Manufactured Products
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The ongoing contamination and pipeline leaks are primary environmental concerns. The province of Nova Scotia is now responsible for remediating the site.

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Project area:142
Level of Investment:133,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:~400-600
Start of the conflict:06/09/2014
Company names or state enterprises:Scott Maritimes Pulp Limited from Canada - The first company to establish, own, and operate the pulp and paper mill at Abercrombie Point.
Neenah Paper from United States of America - Ownership transferred from Scott Maritimes to Neenah in 2004
Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation from Canada - Mill ownership transfers to Northern Pulp in 2008. Is current owner/operator.
Canso Chemicals Ltd from Canada - Chemical supplier to the mill. Located between the town of New Glasgow and the mill site. Responsible for some direct contamination of Boat Harbour.
Relevant government actors:Provincial government of Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia Provincial Court.
Federal government of Canada.
Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Pictou Landing First Nation.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Pictou Landing First Nation -
Idle No More! -
Council of Canadians -
East Coast Environmental Law -
Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board, the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association and the New Brunswick Fisheries Association:
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
PictouLanding First Nation
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Defense of sacred burial grounds
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impacts The ongoing contamination and pipeline leaks are primary environmental concerns. The province of Nova Scotia is now responsible for remediating the site. The 2017 pilot project removed approximately 350,000 cubic meters of contaminated material (Withers, 2017). In addition to contamination, the immediate impact of creating the Boat Harbour holding pond permanently raised water levels by 2-3m and flooded approximately 12 hectares of reserve land. The harbour became devoid of oxygen almost immediately after the treatment facility commenced operation, leading to the death of all aquatic life. (Clancy, 2014; Skoke, 1995)
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsPossible impact of dioxins, furans, chloride, mercury and other toxic heavy metals. Residents of the local area are concerned about the cumulative impact of exposure to air pollution from the mill, contamination of soil and water supply from effluent treatment and the pipeline leaks. The Pictou region has the seventh highest rate of cancer in the country, of 106 health regions. Air quality in the region is poor, can irritate people with health sensitivities, and produces an odor. In addition to ongoing air quality concerns, the unresolved mercury loss from the chemical plant that supplied the pulp and paper mill in the 1970s poses contamination risks to the area.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsThe mill’s ongoing impact on Boat Harbour, and it’s new proposal for piping effluent into the Northumberland Strait, pose risk to the local fishing industry. Some argue that industrial development in the area has hampered the coastal tourism industry from flourishing, as it has in other NS communities, and that another spill or a reduction of fishing would further depress the existing tourism industry.
The ongoing treatment of the Pictou Landing First Nation throughout the siting of the mill, the process of drastically re-shaping reserve lands to serve as a holding ponds for industrial effluent, the failure to address or compensate for the communities concerns, and the impacts that denigrating the local ecosystem has had on the community’s access and use of their territory for sustenance and cultural practices, are part of a longer history of colonization in Canada. From restricting Indigenous peoples to government designated reserve lands, failing to service Indigenous communities, extracting (often without consultation or compensation) resources from Indigenous lands, and siting environmentally depredating industrial facilities in or near socio-politically and economically marginalized communities, the case of Boat Harbour is an example of ongoing colonial violence facilitated by the state and environmental racism.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (undecided)
New legislation
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New legislation against Environmental Racism is being proposed. Remediation is delayed.
Development of alternatives:In 2015 the Boat Harbour Act passed, affirming that the current effluent treatment plant must cease no later than January 31, 2020, and that the site must be remediated. The alternate proposal for treating and releasing effluent from the mill into the Northumberland Strait is also facing backlash because of the risk it poses to the coastal ecosystem and local fisheries. Another leak adjacent to Pictou Landing was reported by a community member on October 21, 2018. Clean-up and monitoring have begun again. Recent news suggests that it is unlikely the company will meet the 2020 deadline (Withers, 2018).
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Resistance from Pictou Landing First Nation after the 2014 spill successfully pushed the Government to pass the Boat Harbour Act. However, there have been failures to stay within budget and on track with the timeline for closing the effluent treatment facility. The outcomes of the remediation project and alternate proposal for effluent processing will also determine the success of this case. Even if these outcomes are successful, further measures are required to address environmental racism in Nova Scotia and Canada. Proposals to the Nova Scotia Legislature such, including an Environmental Bill of Rights and the Redressing Environmental Racism Act, or a federal Environmental Bill of Rights offer one path towards addressing these systemic injustices through legal reform.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Nova Scotia Environment Act (Environmental Assessment Regulations)
[click to view]

Boat Harbour Act (Nova Scotia Provincial Government)
[click to view]

Canadian Environmental Protect Act
[click to view]

Indigenous Rights and Title as recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act
[click to view]

Fisheries Act
[click to view]

R. v. Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation, 2016 NSPC 29 (CanLII)
[click to view]

Pictou Landing First Nation v. Nova Scotia (Attorney General), 2014 NSSC 61 (CanLII)
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Environment Canada. (2013). "Acts & Regulations - Compliance with Chlor-Alkali Mercury Regulations, 1986-1989: Status Report".
[click to view]

Government of Nova Scotia (2018). Boat Harbour Remediation project website
[click to view]

Clancy, Peter (2014).  Freshwater Politics in Canada. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press; Higher education. pp. 27–35.  ISBN 9781442609266.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Andreatta, David. (2013, September 13). In Nova Scotia town, residents fight local mill’s pollution in The Globe and Mail. (updated May 11, 2018)
[click to view]

Brannen, Joan. (2017, Oct 4). UPDATED: Pictou Landing votes to accept government offer, dismantle blockade. (original posting June 16, 2014)
[click to view]

Canadian Press. (1977, June 20). "Plant told to cut mysterious mercury losses" in The Montreal Gazette
[click to view]

Dillion Consulting Limited. (2017, December 25) "The Effluent Treatment System at Boat Harbour"
[click to view]

Donovan, Moira. (2016, May 12). Pictou Landing First Nation to get cut of Northern Pulp’s $225K fine in CBC News
[click to view]

Donovan, Moira. (2016, March 16). Nova Scotia group maps environmental racism in CBC News
[click to view]

East Coast Environmental Law. (Retrieved 2018) Community Summary: The Pictou Landing First Nation Reclaiming the A’se’k Estuary
[click to view]

Gorman, Michael. (2018, April 27). "Cleanup of Boat Harbour contaminated site will get more extensive environmental assessment", in CBC News
[click to view]

Skoke, Roseanne. (1995, February 16). "Roseanne Skoke on Pictou Landing Indian Band Agreement Act" transcript from speech in House of Commons
[click to view]

Thomas-Muller, Clayton. (2014, June 11). “Pictou Landing FN Erect Blockade Over Northern Pulp Mill Effluent Spill” in Warrior Publications blog
[click to view]

Withers, Paul. (2017, June 20). "Officials with $133M Boat Harbour cleanup get first look at contaminated sediment" in CBC News
[click to view]

Withers, Paul. (2018, November 13). “Northern Pulp admits it is likely to miss 2020 effluent deadline” in CBC News: Nova Scotia
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Council of Canadians. (2011, October 7). "Pictou Landing First Nation and mill wastewaster in Boat Harbour, NS"
[click to view]

Video of walking on Boat Harbour's contaminated floor
[click to view]

The ENRICH Project
[click to view]

Other documents

Screenshot of ENRICH Project Map
[click to view]

Boat Harbour case site Google Satellite view of Boat Harbour and Pictou County region with tags
[click to view]

An aerial view of the Boat Harbour wastewater site. Province of Nova Scotia From Fram Dinshaw in South Shore Breaker (
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Emilia Belliveau
Last update04/01/2019
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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