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Provincial inspector Marc Theriault says a few deadlines were extended. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's Northern Pulp mill has been ordered to install air pollution equipment — six years after a scrubber ceased to function.

CBC News has learned the Pictou County mill must make the changes as the result of a new operating permit issued by Nova Scotia last May.

The permit imposed dozens of conditions on the paper mill. Most of them have been met, but when Northern Pulp missed a January deadline to clean up its power boiler, the province issued a rare directive to fix the problem.

Sterling Belliveau, the province's environment minister, said it was a long-standing problem.

"Previous governments had the opportunity to deal with this issue. They didn't; we are," he said Tuesday.  

Documents released to CBC show the scrubber at the boiler has not been in operation since 2006 and particulate emissions from the stack have exceeded the permit levels for years.

The province is concerned with small ash particles generated when wood waste burned in the boiler goes up the stack.

Local resident Matt Gunning said it's about time the mill got up to standard.

"It's scary how long that process was allowed to go on. It should have been fixed quicker," he said.

Northern Pulp defends its decision

Mill manager Don Breen responded Wednesday, saying the company was not sure if putting the scrubber back in operation would qualify for funding under the Green Transformation Program.

"The question was whether the federal government would consider it maintenance and not a new project," he said.

The $1.6 million job entails installing a fan that will blow tiny ash particles into a wet scrubber, where they can be captured.  

"We focused on areas where we could make the most impact, like odour reduction," Breen said.  

In January 2011, the Harper government announced it was giving the mill $28 million under its Green Transformation Program to improve environmental performance at the pulp mill.  

The money was used to reduce sulfur smell coming from the plant, making its power boiler more efficient and increasing the use of renewable energy within the plant.

Those projects have been completed.  

Nova Scotia used the initiative to consolidate its various operating permits for the mill into a single approval that it imposed in May 2011.  

The mill's new 2 year operating permit was released to CBC .  

It is much more onerous, attaching dozens of time lines requiring specific studies and plans to improve effluent discharge, air emissions, pollution monitoring  and dangerous goods storage.  

"We were dealing with all of these things at the one time. There is only so much money and resources to go around," Breen says, adding the mill had put stop gap measures to deal with the power boiler stack.

Northern Pulp Mill Permit