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Exclusive: 2011 evaluation of Abercrombie mill site shows waters laced with heavy metals

End receptor for much ground and surface water is Pictou Harbour

by Miles Howe

Maurina Beadle stands by the effluent flow from the Abercrombie Mill to the Boat Harbour Treatment System. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Maurina Beadle stands by the effluent flow from the Abercrombie Mill to the Boat Harbour Treatment System. [Photo: Miles Howe]

K'JIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – Through an Access To Information request, the Halifax Media Co-op has obtained a hydrogeological and hydrological evaluation of the Abercrombie Mill site itself, conducted by Dillon Consulting in 2011. The entire 'Northern Pulp Abercrombie Pulp Mill and Associated Works Hydrogeological and Hydrological Evaluation (Mill Site)' is available as an attachment for reading or download below.

The mill site itself is located on a point of land surrounded on the North, East and West by picturesque Pictou Harbour. The mill site, according to the report, undergoes a surface and groundwater monitoring program, where water samples are taken from a number of wells situated at various points around the site. The positions of the wells can be seen in the appendix of the accompanying evaluation.

The evaluation notes that: “common groundwater exceedances (based on a comparison to the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines) at the site included: iron, manganese, turbidity, colour and TDS (total dissolved solids), as well as low pH. Less common exceedances observed in 2010 included: arsenic, barium, cadmium and chloride in one or more samples.”

As for surface water samples, the report notes that: “surface water exceedances (based on a comparison to the Canadian Environmental Quality Guidelines for Freshwater Aquatic Life) at the site included: arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, selenium and zinc in one or more samples.”

The evaluation notes that the mill site drainage ditches direct water towards the mill sewer system, and, ultimately, to the Boat Harbour Treatment System. Once in the Boat Harbour system, testing of any kind appears to end once the waters enter the Aerator Basin, where a system of underwater fan-like structures churn the poisonous waters before they enter Boat Harbour and ultimately the Northumberland Straight.

The evaluation also notes that there are several sources of potential contamination at the mill site. These include: industrial landfills, leachate, chemical storage areas, petroleum storage tanks, oi-water separators, a cardlock facility, septic systems and an ash pond.

There is also an asbestos waste disposal area that, according to the evaluation, is no longer in use and has been capped.

Of note, Landfill 1 – which can be seen in the appendix accompanying the evaluation below – contains “wood waste and, to a lesser degree, construction debris, mill garbage, old barrels and potentially municipal solid waste. It was likely used from Mill start-up in September 1967 until 1972.”

There is no leachate collection system for Landfill 1. Also, according to information provided by Northern Pulp to Dillon Consulting, a culvert underlies the central portion of Landfill 1. The evaluation notes that: “the inlet of the culvert is visible; however, the outlet has never been located.”

The evaluation also appears to contradict itself, or potentially lose faith in the mill drainage system to capture and direct the potentially heavy metal-laden waters to the Boat Harbour Treatment System.

On page 15, the evaluation notes that the 'receptor' for both surface water and groundwater from the Southeast side of the mill, Landfills 1 and 2 and the Cardlock facility is “eventually Pictou Harbour.”

Please see the attached evaluation below:

Dillon - Northern Pulp 2011

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