After months of waiting, emissions tests are underway at the Northern Pulp mill, where some people in the community fear their health is being affected by the malfunctioning facility. 

The last time the mill's emissions were tested in November, the particulate reading was 78 per cent higher than acceptable standards, although the company says there has been a 25 per cent improvement in the levels since then.

David MacKenzie, a spokesman for Northern Pulp, says the mill in Pictou has contracted Stantec, an environmental consulting firm, to conduct a week-long series of tests.

MacKenzie says tests will be done at the mill's recovery boiler, power boiler, dissolving tank and lyme kiln, and samples will be submitted to a lab for analysis.

“They'll do their testing which is three tests of two hours duration on each stack,” he said.

As technicians start their job, municipal leaders have their own work cut out for them.

Mayors and CAOs in Pictou County listened to a presentation on Monday by the Clean the Mill group.

The municipal leaders walked out with a plan to meet with the province as well as officials with Northern Pulp.

“We have concerns for people's health here in Pictou County. We have concerns for some of the small businesses, mainly in the town of Pictou but also surrounding areas, and we'll hope that they will listen and we can come up with a concrete plan,” said Ronnie Bailey, warden of Pictou County.

Testing meets skepticism

Meanwhile, people who live and work nearby are watching closely.

Matt Gunning runs an automotive shop in the heart of town. He's also part of an activist group pushing to clean up the mill.

“We'd be surprised if there were any dramatic changes with the testing,” he said.

Gunning wonders how accurate the readings will be since the mill hires the company and schedules the date.

“The concern is they could be a little bit more prepared for it and that could affect the testing results. Open book tests are open book,” he said.

Nearly 100 people protested on a busy New Glasgow street Sunday, ahead of the latest tests.

Sarah Bronson, one of the protesters, said she wants action.

"It won't be fixed until it is fixed. Then we will be satisfied," she said.

The protesters say the smog belching out of the mill is affecting their health, while the government has said there's no imminent threat.

The company that owns the mill has said it plans to make upgrades to the mill next year, but that's not soon enough for some residents.

"The testing, as far as I'm concerned, is only one step in the right direction. For me, we have to have clean air today and not in 2015," said protester Sylvia Chiasson-Bonaparte.

The job question

But if the mill is forced to close until it's fixed, hundreds would be thrown out of work. The mill owners have warned that could lead to the demise of the facility.

It's something protester Dave Cullen is well aware of.

"We don't want anyone to lose jobs. We just want to force them to clean it up — and do it now," he said. 

It usually takes 60 days to receive the results of the tests, but the province said it hopes to have them sooner.

Protesters told CBC News, they plan to continue lobbying for a fix at the mill.

"Even though they're doing the tests, we still know the pollution is coming out. We need them to do something today about it, not tomorrow," said Cullen.

The tests are expected to take a week or more.

Then, the results will be sent to the Department of Environment.

The minister has said he hopes to have those results in his hands by the end of September.

With files from The Canadian Press