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B.C. Paper Excellence pulp and paper mill fined $22,000 for leaking toxic gas into atmosphere

CANADA (From news reports) -- A B.C. pulp and paper mill owned by the country's largest forestry company has been handed $22,000 in penalties for releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere.

The fines, handed to Paper Excellence's Howe Sound Pulp and Paper Mill on the Sunshine Coast, included 201 failures to comply with limits on the release of sulphur dioxide from its power boiler. In some cases, gas concentrations climbed 81 per cent above the daily limit, according to a decision from director of the Environmental Management Act Jason Bourgeois.

Sulphur dioxide, or SO2, contributes to the generation of acid aerosols and acid rain. In high concentrations, it can cause "breathing problems, respiratory illness, changes in the lung's defences, and worsening respiratory and cardiovascular disease," noted the decision.

"At a minimum," Bourgeois wrote, the 201 failures to comply with daily and hourly SO2 limits have "a medium potential to result in a significant adverse effect" to the environment and human health.

The director increased the penalty to the mill for the repeated nature of the violations, finding "there was no detectable decrease in the rate of failures" over the nearly three years of contraventions. But Bourgeois decided they were not deliberate and reduced the penalty further after finding Paper Excellence had spent some money to ensure they did not occur again.

Each of the breaches, which spanned December 2020 to April 2023, could have earned the company $40,000 penalties. But in his decision, Bourgeois chose to limit the monetary penalty as the contravention was "moderate" and the mill's first penalty under the permit.

Between 2017 and 2022, dozens of workers at the mill were exposed to toxic gases in leaks that have prompted multiple WorkSafeBC investigations. In December 2023, one worker who said he was exposed to gases then fired over his workplace injuries won the right to a hearing at the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

It's not clear if the workplace exposures and environmental penalties are related. Paper Excellence did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

In another set of contraventions detailed by Bourgeois this month, the mill was found to have failed to maintain its equipment on 116 occasions over more than two years leading up to April 2023.

Second B.C. mill to receive environmental penalties this year

Paper Excellence purchased the Howe Sound mill in 2010 as it began expanding its operations across B.C. Since then, it has grown to become one of the largest forestry companies in North America. After more than US$7 billion in acquisitions in recent years, the company controls more than 22 million hectares of Canadian forest -- roughly seven Vancouver Islands -- and owns dozens of mills across Canada, the U.S., Brazil and France.

Paper Excellence's meteoric rise has at times been plagued by controversy. In 2016, the Canadian government handed a $225,000 penalty to the company's Northern Pulp mill for leaking more than 47 million litres of pulp and paper effluence into Pictou Harbour, N.S. Two years later, federal authorities fined its mill in Mackenzie, B.C., $900,000 for leaking effluence into a lake. Both mills were added to Canada's environmental offenders registry.

And in January, a wholly owned subsidiary of Paper Excellence was told to pay $25,500 in penalties for dumping highly toxic waste into the ocean from its Crofton pulp and paper mill on Vancouver Island.

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