HALIFAX -- Residents of a Nova Scotia community who are learning second-hand about excessive air pollution from a nearby pulp mill say the province is being lax and secretive about emission levels.
Matt Gunning, a volunteer with the community group Clean the Mill, says people living across the harbour from the Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Inc. mill in Pictou should be able to monitor pollution levels on the provincial Environment Department's website -- especially when they are over the limit.
"We don't feel the government is working with the people on this," he said.
"If the mill is going to be failing consistently, I think posting the results (of stack emissions) would help with transparency and maybe help gain the people's faith in this situation."
A local member of the legislature said Tuesday she received information from the company that the power boiler at the plant had particulate emissions of 224 milligrams per reference cubic metres, while the permit for the equipment allows for only 150 milligrams.
Karla MacFarlane, the Tory member of the legislature for Pictou West, said her office continues to receive complaints almost daily about emissions.
She says the environment minister must ensure the stack emission test results are made public on the department's website to help the public find ways to avoid harmful emissions.
"It keeps the constituents abreast of what is happening. When the Department of Environment doesn't put those figures up, it seems secretive," she said.
"If there is something being emitted that is harmful and potentially dangerous to one's health, they should know what the levels are."
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said in an email that Pictou County residents have a right to know what pollution data their government is tracking.
Under the NDP's proposed Environmental Bill of Rights, the province would be required to post all information they collect about pollution and environmental degradation online, he said.
It would also give citizens mechanisms through the courts to protect their right to a clean and healthy environment, he said.
Company spokeswoman Kathy Cloutier said the company is disappointed with the results for its power boiler, and is trying to determine what happened.
It's the third consecutive year that emissions from the boiler have exceeded limits set by the Environment Department, though there have been fluctuations and times when stack emissions did meet standards.
"While it goes without saying that this exceedance is a disappointing step back for all involved with Northern Pulp, it is important to recognize that emission improvements mill-wide have been reduced by over 80 per cent since the commissioning," Cloutier wrote in an email.
She also said the recovery boiler precipitator, which has larger discharge volume compared with the power boiler, has been meeting standards.
"We continue to investigate all avenues that may be contributing to the fluctuating results. Recent activities include having North American boiler experts on site conducting a full audit of scrubber operations," she added.
"The recommendations stemming from this audit are now under review."
A spokeswoman for the Environment Department said an investigation is underway into the latest results.
"Any time a company does not comply with our regulations, we take it very seriously," Chrissy Matheson wrote in an email.
She declined to comment on the figures released by members of the legislature for the June stack tests, adding there have been "no corrective orders to date."
Matheson provided figures indicating that in 2015 and 2016, the mill was handed directives and warnings for emissions from the power boiler that were over the limit.
In June of last year the mill received a summary offence fine valued at $697.50, but that was withdrawn after it was revealed there were technical errors with the tests, she said.
Gunning said that without greater transparency and more significant fines, the public is losing confidence in the oversight process.
"I don't think any of this is a trade secret. This is an emission level ... and we need to know if it's being met," he said.