Nova Scotia·Audio

Erin Brockovich on Pictou mill: 'It's really not OK to wait until 2015'

Consumer advocate Erin Brockovich, a household name after Julia Roberts portrayed her in a Hollywood movie, says people in Pictou County can’t wait until next spring for the Northern Pulp mill to stop emitting high particulate levels.

N.S. government issued an order giving the mill until next spring to clean up

Erin Brokovich talks about Stericycle at a town meeting at Foxboro Elementary School in North Salt Lake in 2013. (The Associated Press)

Consumer advocate Erin Brockovich, a household name after Julia Roberts portrayed her in a Hollywood movie, says people in Pictou County can’t wait until next spring for the Northern Pulp mill to stop emitting high particulate levels.

“The time is now where we need to make those changes effective immediately,” she told CBC’s Mainstreet.

In the years since the film, Brockovich has continued to fight environmental damage wrought by corporations. Most recently, she’s turned her attention to the Northern Pulp Mill in Pictou.

Sometimes I feel like I'm talking to one of my kids, pick up your mess.-  Erin Brockovich

She said after hearing from people in Nova Scotia she decided to lend her voice to the cause.

The haze from the mill in Abercrombie Point has a sulphur-like smell and drifts across the town. Some locals report the smog gets into their clothes, homes, cars and lungs.

“We can clearly see that there’s obviously been problems there and they’re out of compliance. The folks in the area are frustrated,” she said. Tests last year showed the mill is emitting particulate levels at 78 per cent higher than what's allowed.

Brockovich says she’s concerned about people’s health.

Order a 'double negative'

“We have to listen to the people in the community. They’re the people living there.”

Complaints about the stinking smog generated by the mill have been growing, with the Lung Association receiving an influx of calls from people worried about the health effects. (CBC)

The Department of the Environment sent a statement saying, "Premier McNeil and his government have heard the concerns of Pictou County residents, who want a safe, healthy and prosperous community. That's also what the government wants, which is why a legally-binding order was issued Aug. 21st, ordering Northern Pulp to clean up the mill or face closure. There will be an opportunity for written public consultation this fall."

The mill has until May to come into compliance.

"It's a double negative," says Brockovich. "They say there is no imminent health threat but they also say they have to come in compliance. If you're out of compliance, and there's too much pollution occurring and there are these chemicals in the air and you have a community that is saying to you, 'We can't breathe, we have rashes, we have coughs, we have respiratory problems.' What about that makes you think it's not imminent?"

"It's really not OK to wait until 2015."

Brockovich says in her line of work she's seen corporations intimidate people by suggesting jobs will be lost if they have to tighten up environmental regulations.

"They're choosing it to be that way. They can come into compliance, they can safeguard the environment and protect their neighbour and still be a business. They're just choosing not to," she says. "Sometimes I feel like I'm talking to one of my kids: pick up your mess."

Brockovich says she'll continue to speak out against the emissions at the mill and is even considering coming to Pictou.

To listen to Brockovich’s full interview with CBC click here.

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