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Nova Scotia sets May deadline for paper mill to fix emissions problems

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HALIFAX - A paper mill in Nova Scotia that has been spewing emissions above legal limits has nine months to meet those environmental standards or it will be forced to close, Premier Stephen McNeil said Thursday.

The provincial government issued a compliance order giving Northern Pulp a deadline of May 30 to get its air quality emissions in line.

The legally binding order says the mill in Abercrombie Point in Pictou County is in violation of its terms of approval by exceeding air quality stack emissions from a recovery boiler. The order says the mill must install a new electrostatic precipitator by the deadline or that approval will be suspended or cancelled.

"Without the permit, they will not be able to operate, which means that mill will be closed," said McNeil.

The mill's continued operation has been a sore point for many residents and businesses in the seaside town of Pictou. They say they are fed up with the particulate that has left a dense smog and persistent smell.

Many have called for the mill to be immediately closed until it deals with its aging smoke stacks, but company officials have said the cost of such a move would result in the operation shutting down permanently.

Northern Pulp spokesman David MacKenzie said the company is working to install the new precipitator under an industrial order issued by the previous NDP government and will comply with eight new conditions in the new compliance order.

MacKenzie said the company is confident it can meet any new requirements laid out by the government once the precipitator is installed.

"The guarantee from the supplier is that we should be between 30 and 50 milligrams per reference cubic metre," said MacKenzie, adding that the current standard is 375 milligrams.

The compliance order also requires the results of ongoing emission tests by consultant Stantec to be directly submitted to the province within 30 days of completion instead of the typical period of 90 days. McNeil said the Environment Department will release the results of those tests to the public.

McNeil's comments Thursday mark a slight departure from the government's position earlier this month, when Environment Minister Randy Delorey said he didn't know whether the test results would be made public, citing possible "commercial restrictions."

Tests conducted last year showed the mill was producing emissions 78 per cent above legal limits, although the company says there's been a 25 per cent improvement since then.

The Environment Department is also working on a new industrial approval for the mill for January 2015 that will contain stricter limits on emissions and the company will be expected to meet those standards by the May 30 deadline.

"The new order will be the one that they will have to comply by," McNeil said.

Under the compliance order, the mill must also provide the province with weekly progress reports on the precipitator project, report on work undertaken to improve emissions during a scheduled shutdown in September and conduct another set of stack tests by Oct. 31.

Anne Emmett, chairwoman of Clean Pictou Air, said the compliance order is a sign that the province is starting to listen to her group's concerns.

But Emmett said it still doesn't deal with the immediate emissions problem.

"We are still nine months away from having the air cleaned up and according to all the health care professionals we have in our group, there is an imminent danger," she said.

The provincial government says there is no immediate health threat as a result of problems at the mill, although Health Minister Leo Glavine said earlier this month that the level of emissions can't be allowed to continue over the long term.

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