Peter MacKay, the MP for Central Nova, said the federal government is watching the "dire" situation at the Northern Pulp mill but would not weigh in on how to resolve the problem.
MacKay represents the area that includes Pictou, where locals have reported smog from the Abercrombie Point mill gets into their clothes, homes, cars and lungs. They say the haze from the mill has a sulphur-like smell and drifts across the town.
"The federal environment minister is aware as well of these concerns. And obviously the economic impact in Pictou County is something that is of great concern as well, having recently lost jobs at Michelin, Convergys," MacKay said Tuesday.
"This is a very dire situation."
MacKay said the air quality issues around the pulp mill aren't his jurisdiction. He wouldn't comment on the 2015 arrival date of the much-needed new precipitator, which is a filtration device. Officials with Northern Pulp have said the smell and particulate are caused by emissions that are getting through an old precipitator.
Mill can't shut down temporarily
Dave Kerr, the vice-president of operations for Paper Excellence Canada which runs Northern Pulp, said the mill is running well and the emissions from the stack are "as best controlled as we can control them."
"The air is good. There's no plume heading toward Pictou, it's actually heading towards the north," he told CBC's As It Happens on Tuesday.
"There are days when atmospheric conditions cause the plume to fall down onto the harbour."
Kerr said he understands the concerns and the mill is not happy with the situation. He said they're doing whatever they can to minimize the impact from the emissions until May 2015.
'We're planning to be here for the long term. I think we're a good bet for the community.' - Dave Kerr
The current part is 50 years old and is beyond its useful life, he said. The mill maintains it to run as best it can, but it's difficult to find replacement parts for such an old piece.
Kerr said they knew it was an issue when Paper Excellence bought the mill a few years ago and they started looking for the $21-million part, which he said takes a year or more to build.
"We're even trying to accelerate it further," he said.
"We're doing our best to minimize the impact on the environment on an hourly basis and we're trying to do our best to get the equipment here as soon as possible.
"If we were to shut down a mill like this before we got it to its world-class status, it wouldn't be restarted," he added.
Shutting down the mill would cut off revenue flow, which would mean it couldn't pay employees or suppliers. Shutting it down for nine months would damage the mill itself, he said.
"We're planning to be here for the long term. I think we're a good bet for the community," said Kerr.
"There's no difference in what we're looking for. There's a difference in how we want to get to that end goal."
No health risk, says environment minister
Nova Scotia's Environment Minister Randy Delorey said the mill poses no imminent health risk to people.
"I certainly do hear the concerns and I appreciate those concerns. But when we make our decisions, we have to make it based upon the data we have and so our primary objective here is again working towards the compliance and making the environment better," he said.
The next air quality test at the mill should happen on Aug. 18. Delorey hopes to have the numbers by the end of September, but it could take until mid-October.
"Certainly at any point in time, when people have health concerns, we do have health professionals in the area and I would encourage them to reach out to them if they are having health concerns," he said.