Nova Scotia's Environment Minister says there's no question the Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point is malfunctioning, but he has no intention of forcing it to shut down despite public complaints about the emissions coming from the mill.
"To date the conclusions that they've made are that there isn't an imminent threat to human health," Randy Delorey said Wednesday.
David MacKenzie, a spokesman for Northern Pulp, said the smell and particulate are caused by emissions that are getting through an old precipitator, which is a filtration device. He said the company is having logistical issues bringing in a new one.
They hope to have a new precipitator installed by May 2015.
"There's going to be no direct change until the precipitator is installed. But it's not going to stop us from working to see what we can do to solve it," MacKenzie said Wednesday.
He said if the mill were to shut down in the interim, it would likely not reopen.
"We would lose our employees, our raw materials suppliers in the forests, in the sawmills. We'd lose our customers," said MacKenzie.
Delorey said he's content to live with Northern Pulp's timeline to fix the problem. He said the mill has planned a temporary shutdown for 10 days in September for some regular maintenance and they will take that opportunity to install duct work needed to accommodate a new precipitator.
"We do recognize and we're working with the mill and discussing what can be done before then to try to mitigate and minimize the effects right now in the short term," he said.
The province has given the mill $111 million in loans since 2009.
Complaints from residents in Pictou, who have been pressing for action for a year, intensified this week after business leader Paul Sobey lashed out at the mill. He said the sulphur-like smell and particulate drift across the town, getting in people's clothes, homes and cars.
Barry Randle and his wife, who moved from British Columbia six years ago to open the Stone Soup Cafe in Pictou, said the town they fell in love with has turned toxic.
"The physical feeling that you get when the emissions hit, that your eyes are burning, you're choking on it and you can taste it in the air," he said.
"It's so thick. It's a mist that hangs right over the town."
Randle said the pollution is so bad that customers tell him they're never coming back.
"When I have tourists here from international destinations, places in Europe, they're absolutely disgusted that we allow this to go on in our country," he said.
The mayor of Pictou said the stench is hurting the town but he's absolutely against trying to have the mill closed.
Joe Hawes, who worked at the mill until his retirement in 2005, said even asking the plant to close down for a few days to clean or repair the cause of the smell is unlikely.
"It probably wouldn't be viable if they did that. No company can afford to lose millions of dollars," Hawes said Wednesday.
Hawes agrees the smell is affecting the town's tourism industry.
"The hospitality industry has a 90-day window to make a profit to their year," he said. "It hurts our economy."
Elwin Hemphill, a former town councillor, said the smelly haze in Pictou is "putrid." He's concerned it may be affecting people's health.
"Our people are being poisoned and that’s what I believe," he said.
"What has to be done by the government Department of Health is take that stuff, analyze it, determine the carcinogens in it and how bad they are."