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


Description

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).  

Boat Harbour Effluent Treatment Facility was constructed in the early 1970s, including a dam in 1972 that cut off Boat Harbour from the ocean, transforming it into a freshwater lake and then wastewater lagoon. Since the treatment system began operation, Boat Harbour has become polluted with dioxins, furans, chloride, mercury and other toxic heavy metals (Council of Canadians, 2011).   

Boat Harbour was further contaminated in 2014 when 47 million liters of effluent spilled directly into nearby wetland and then seeped into the East River and Pictou Harbour. The spill prompted renewed interest in the site and resistance from locals, including the Pictou Landing First Nation. Boat Harbour is considered one of Nova Scotia's worst cases of environmental racism (Donovan, 2016). 

The Pictou Landing First Nation has expressed concern about Boat Harbour’s impact on the local ecosystem, water quality, livelihood of community members, access to cultural sites and practices, and community health for over four decades.  Pictou Landing First Nation first moved to take legal action against the project in 1986, in a suit that took seven years. While the Nation settled with the federal government out of court for $35 million in 1993, the upfront cost of forwarding their case was a great financial burden and capacity drain for the small community. The continued failure to clean up Boat Harbour prompted a lawsuit in 2010 against the province of Nova Scotia, but the community required compensation of legal funds to continue pursuing the case, which rejected by the court (Donovan, 2016; PLFN v. NS, 2014). 

The 2014 spill directly impacted the Nation’s burial sites and community members were deeply concerned about their water supply. This event, and the mill’s history of disregard for environment and community, inspired a blockade of the spill site (with the exception of environmental consultants) until officials consulted with the band council about the Mi’kmaq burial grounds nearby. The escalation of the conflict, support from research and advocacy groups, and media scrutiny applied sufficient pressure to pass the Boat Harbour Act in 2015. (Brannen, 2017)

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. 

Basic Data

NameBoat Harbour contamination from pulp and paper industry, Nova Scotia, Canada
CountryCanada
ProvinceNova Scotia
SitePictou 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 CommoditiesManufactured 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.

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) Since the treatment system began operation in the 1970's, Boat Harbour has become polluted with dioxins, furans,  chloride, mercury and other toxic heavy metals (Council of Canadians, 2011).   In addition to the the mill's effluent, Boat Harbour also had untreated chemicals poured directly into it by former mill supplier Canso Chemicals, which 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 (Canadian Press, 1977). 

Boat Harbour was further contaminated in 2014 when 47 million liters of effluent spilled directly into nearby wetland and then seeped into the East River and Pictou Harbour. Nova Scotia Lands Inc., a crown corporation, is now working to remediate the site. The 2017 pilot project had an estimated cost of $133 million and removed an 350,000 cubic meters of contaminated material. The legal expense to the government and local First Nations should also be included when considering the true cost of this conflict. Another rupture and leak recently occurred in October, 2018.
Project Area (in hectares)142
Level of Investment (in USD)133,000,000
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population~400-600
Start Date06/09/2014
Company Names or State EnterprisesScott 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 actorsProvincial government of Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia Provincial Court.

Federal government of Canada.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Pictou Landing First Nation.
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersPictou Landing First Nation - https://plfn.ca/departments/boat-harbour-rem

Idle No More! - http://www.idlenomore.ca/pictou_landing_erects_blockade

Council of Canadians - https://canadians.org/fr/node/11226

East Coast Environmental Law - https://www.ecelaw.ca/contaminated_sites/case-law/r-v-northern-pulp-nova-scotia-corporation-2016-nspc-29-canlii.html

Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board, the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association and the New Brunswick Fisheries Association: https://atlanticfisherman.com/no-pipe-in-the-strait/

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
PictouLanding First Nation
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
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

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Other Environmental impacts
Other 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
OtherPossible 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-economic 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
OtherThe 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.

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Court decision (undecided)
New legislation
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New legislation against Environmental Racism is being proposed. Remediation is delayed.
Development of AlternativesIn 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 as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.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 and Materials

Legislations

Nova Scotia Environment Act (Environmental Assessment Regulations)
https://novascotia.ca/just/regulations/regs/envassmt.htm

Boat Harbour Act (Nova Scotia Provincial Government)
https://nslegislature.ca/legc/bills/62nd_2nd/1st_read/b089.htm

Canadian Environmental Protect Act
https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-15.31/

Indigenous Rights and Title as recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act
https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1536350959665/1539959903708

Fisheries Act
https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/f-14/

R. v. Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation, 2016 NSPC 29 (CanLII)
http://canlii.ca/t/gr8ns

Pictou Landing First Nation v. Nova Scotia (Attorney General), 2014 NSSC 61 (CanLII)
http://canlii.ca/t/g5xr2

References

Environment Canada. (2013). "Acts & Regulations - Compliance with Chlor-Alkali Mercury Regulations, 1986-1989: Status Report".
http://www.ec.gc.ca/lcpe-cepa/default.asp?lang=En&n=E7E0E329-1&offset=7

Government of Nova Scotia (2018). Boat Harbour Remediation project website
https://novascotia.ca/boatharbour/

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

Links

Andreatta, David. (2013, September 13). In Nova Scotia town, residents fight local mill’s pollution in The Globe and Mail. (updated May 11, 2018)
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/in-nova-scotia-town-residents-fight-local-mills-pollution/article14324606/

Brannen, Joan. (2017, Oct 4). UPDATED: Pictou Landing votes to accept government offer, dismantle blockade. (original posting June 16, 2014)
https://www.ngnews.ca/news/local/updated-pictou-landing-votes-to-accept-government-offer-dismantle-blockade-77525/

Canadian Press. (1977, June 20). "Plant told to cut mysterious mercury losses" in The Montreal Gazette
https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19770620&id=VpguAAAAIBAJ&sjid=n6EFAAAAIBAJ&pg=982%2C1077931

Dillion Consulting Limited. (2017, December 25) "The Effluent Treatment System at Boat Harbour"
https://sites.google.com/dillon.ca/northernpulpetf/project-overview/boat-harbour

Donovan, Moira. (2016, May 12). Pictou Landing First Nation to get cut of Northern Pulp’s $225K fine in CBC News
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/pictou-landing-first-nation-fine-1.3579245

Donovan, Moira. (2016, March 16). Nova Scotia group maps environmental racism in CBC News
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/ns-environmental-racism-map-1.3494081

East Coast Environmental Law. (Retrieved 2018) Community Summary: The Pictou Landing First Nation Reclaiming the A’se’k Estuary
https://www.ecelaw.ca/images/PDFs/ER_event/Asek-Estuary_final.pdf

Gorman, Michael. (2018, April 27). "Cleanup of Boat Harbour contaminated site will get more extensive environmental assessment", in CBC News
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/boat-harbour-cleanup-environmental-assessment-1.4638072>.

Skoke, Roseanne. (1995, February 16). "Roseanne Skoke on Pictou Landing Indian Band Agreement Act" transcript from speech in House of Commons
https://openparliament.ca/debates/1995/2/16/roseanne-skoke-1/only/

Thomas-Muller, Clayton. (2014, June 11). “Pictou Landing FN Erect Blockade Over Northern Pulp Mill Effluent Spill” in Warrior Publications blog
https://warriorpublications.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/pictou-landing-fn-erect-blockade-over-northern-pulp-mill-effluent-spill/

Withers, Paul. (2017, June 20). "Officials with $133M Boat Harbour cleanup get first look at contaminated sediment" in CBC News
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/boat-harbour-clean-up-estimated-133-million-1.2423846

Withers, Paul. (2018, November 13). “Northern Pulp admits it is likely to miss 2020 effluent deadline” in CBC News: Nova Scotia
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/northern-pulp-admits-likely-to-miss-2020-effluent-deadline-1.4904168?fbclid=IwAR1BdzmiCl8hRMQpUZON8CPJzlq167Ink_sUIzPqcmapzcK66Y3wx1JNAlI

Media Links

Council of Canadians. (2011, October 7). "Pictou Landing First Nation and mill wastewaster in Boat Harbour, NS"
https://canadians.org/fr/node/7718

The ENRICH Project
https://www.enrichproject.org/

Video of walking on Boat Harbour's contaminated floor
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/boat-harbour-cleanup-contaminated-soil-texture-1.4168709

Other Documents

An aerial view of the Boat Harbour wastewater site. Province of Nova Scotia From Fram Dinshaw in South Shore Breaker (https://www.southshorebreaker.ca/news/liberals-absolutely-committed-to-closing-boat-harbour-site-158709/)
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/NG-A01-02112017-BoatHarbourfromProvince_large.jpg

Screenshot of ENRICH Project Map
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/ENRICH_MAP.png

Boat Harbour case site Google Satellite view of Boat Harbour and Pictou County region with tags
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Pictou_County_map_-_satellite.png

Meta Information

ContributorEmilia Belliveau
Last update04/01/2019

Images

 

An aerial view of the Boat Harbour wastewater site. Province of Nova Scotia

From Fram Dinshaw in South Shore Breaker (https://www.southshorebreaker.ca/news/liberals-absolutely-committed-to-closing-boat-harbour-site-158709/)

Screenshot of ENRICH Project Map

 

Boat Harbour case site

Google Satellite view of Boat Harbour and Pictou County region with tags