A leak in an effluent pipe at the Northern Pulp Mill in Pictou County has forced the shutdown of the mill.

The leak was detected at around 7 a.m. on Tuesday near the pipe's landfall on the Pictou Landing side of the East River. The mill was shut down to allow Northern Pulp to assess the situation.

Environment Minister Randy Delorey said while early reports suggest there is no serious environmental damage, the amount of leaked material is still being investigated.

"As far as I know it has leaked through some wetland space," he said.

"But the early report I have is that they didn't see any effect on the fish in the area, which would be one of the first indicators of serious environmental harm."

Delorey said the government's first priority is confirming the scope of the leakage before they investigate what went wrong.

The pipe carries 90 million litres of pulp mill waste every day from the mill site at Abercrombie Point, under the East River in Pictou Harbour to a treatment facility at Pictou Landing.

The company said it does not know what went wrong or how much effluent was discharged.

"Our primary concern is the safety of the public, mill employees and protection of the environment," David MacKenzie, speaking for Northern Pulp, said in a statement.

"At this time, all resources are focused on ensuring that the shutdown of the mill and containment of any effluent is carried out in a safe and timely manner."

MacKenzie said there is no danger to the public.

"The mill has protocols in place and trained staff in the event of these situations and the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment was contacted and we are working with them and others to assess the situation," he said. 

Repeat occurrence

This is the second time in six years this pipe has broken down. In 2008, the underwater pipe broke and caused a lengthy shutdown of the mill.

Matt Gunning, with the Clean Up the Pictou County Pulp Mill group, said a considerable amount of money went into repairing a pipe in 2009.

"Provincial taxpayers either loaned or gave the $15 million to make sure this wouldn't happen again and to have it happen so soon is concerning," he said.

Gunning said the province should have the ability to to tests on the grounds without advance notice. He said more information is needed to confirm the effects of the effluent.

"You can name any number of harbour towns and we seem to be the only one that has a shellfish fishery closed," he said.

"I don't believe they've satisfied our questions regarding that."