The Nova Scotia government has issued a legally binding order giving the problem-plagued Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie until next spring to clean up its act.

Environment Minister Randy Delorey issued a ministerial order on Thursday "to ensure that Northern Pulp takes measures to reduce air quality emissions that exceed approved limits under the Environment Act."

Delorey said the mill has until May 30, 2015 to take the necessary measures to bring the mill up to acceptable standards. The order says if the mill's air emissions aren't in compliance by then, the minister will "cancel or suspend the approval."

The cleanup order says Northern Pulp is in "violation of a term and condition of its approval, by exceeding air quality stack emissions from a recovery boiler."

An emissions test was performed on Monday, the results of which will take some time to analyze. Prior to Monday's test, the mill's emissions were last tested in November. The particulate reading at that time 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.

Delorey has previously said the government had no intention of shutting down the mill.

That's despite complaints about the stinking smog generated by the mill that have been growing, with the Lung Association of Nova Scotia receiving an influx of calls from people worried about the health effects.​ 

Premier Stephen McNeil said he’s listening to those complaints.

'We all want the same things'

"They are voicing their concerns because they want a healthy, safe and prosperous Pictou County. We all want the same things," he said.

McNeil said the order makes it clear to Northern Pulp what the government expects of the company.

"We have added a firm deadline that if it's not done, the consequences are that we will be revoking your permit and you will not be operating that mill in the province," he said.

"We fully expect them to comply or else we will be closing that mill."

'We fully expect them to comply or else we will be closing that mill.'- Premier Stephen McNeil."

The order states the company has contravened the Environment Act and requires Northern Pulp to:

  • Ensure an electrostatic precipitator is built, installed and commissioned on the recovery boiler by May 30, 2015, to bring the mill's air emissions into compliance;
  • Have stack test results submitted directly to the Department of Environment within 30 days of testing, instead of the usual 90 days;
  • Submit a schedule for installing the new precipitator and provide weekly progress reports in writing; 
  • Do a second set of stack tests on or before Oct. 31, and have results sent to the Department of Environment within 30 days of completing the tests.

In the news release, Delorey said the Environment Department is looking to impose more strict limits on air emissions before the mill’s latest industrial approval in January 2015.

Short-term problems

He said the public will have a chance to write in with their concerns this fall.

Anne Emmett, with the group Clean Pictou Air, says the order is only an incremental change.

"It’s certainly not going to do any good in the short term," she said.

"What it is doing, though, is confirming what have been told in the past and it’s actually putting it in writing. I guess a ministerial order does have some clout to it. That is the one positive point that’s coming out of the release this morning."

Emmett says she thinks the government is reacting to the amount of public backlash.

"We have been relentless," she said. "It doesn’t say very much to me or any of my friends and neighbours that we have to put this kind of pressure on our government, who we elected, to actually step up and do something that’s so obviously wrong."