Over the past several years I have written frequently about issues which concern me as an environmentalist. Many of those columns have dealt with the Bowater and the NB Power operations locally. I have not had any occasions to write about Pioneer Chemical because, in recent years at least, there has been very little concern about its operations or about any negative impact on the local environment.
Pioneer Chemical is, of course, the latest reincarnation of an operation which has had a presence, in one form or another, for a good many years on the banks of the lower Restigouche Estuary, just west of the Dalhousie Marina, on the south bank of the river. In its earlier and uglier incarnation as CIL (among others) it was a major mercury polluter of the local environment. In fact, it was one of the primary motivations for the formation of a local environmental activist group known as the Chaleur Environmental Protection Association (CEPA) back in those days when industry assumed that it could do as it wished, all in the name of creating jobs and profit.
Times have changed. Today Pioneer Chemical goes about its business, quietly, efficiently and responsibly.
Almost a year ago, Pioneer set out to form a Citizen's Advisory Panel (CAP); the chemical industry's version of the Public Advisory Committee which Bowater has formed and of which I am currently the local chairperson. When I was asked to sit on the Pioneer CAP I agreed to do so with the same stipulation that I had established with Bowater, which was that I would not serve on any purely rubber stamp committee. I wanted it clearly understood that, in accepting this appointment, I would not forego my rights to express my concerns, loudly and publicly, in this space and elsewhere.
In the past year, the CAP has met, as memory serves, five times. I have attended three of those meetings, including the most recent. At that meeting the panel had a chance to review the monitoring which takes place concerning mercury emissions. Currently, the company monitors outflow from its old burial site on the Blair Malcolm Road to ensure that nothing is escaping into the water table from the stuff that is buried there. As well, the company samples the air surrounding the plant for mercury; and separate studies dealing with the soil, the lichens, and the shoreline have recently been conducted to measure and evaluate the presence of this highly toxic heavy metal.
The other major concern has to do with the production and transportation of various chlorine products. This, too, is highly toxic stuff and demands to be handled with extreme care. Because chlorine exists as a liquid gas (as opposed to a heavy metal such as mercury) it is highly volatile when it is released into the atmosphere and could constitute a threat to any downwind population in the event of a major incident. The company, in conjunction with the local Emergency Measures Organisation (EMO), has contingency plans in place to deal with whatever eventuality.
What strikes me after several meetings is that Pioneer, like Bowater and like NB Power, has accepted its obligation to be responsible and to be answerable to the public in all environmental matters. We have come a long way since the old, bad, confrontational days of CIL versus CEPA, or of all the other environmental-industry battles of the 1970's, '80's and even the early '90's. Nothing is perfect, nor can it be so long as human beings feel the need to manipulate the natural resources and the environment, but as long as industry accepts this level of responsibility, there is some hope that we may yet make it some way into the future without destroying too much more. As I have mentioned previously, the mere fact that people like myself would be invited to sit down and advise industry (and that is the key word for me) of our concerns would not even have been imagined ten or fifteen years ago.
I would like to think that the average citizen in this area is aware that groups such as these exist and that they are in place to reflect concerns. I can say, too, that anyone out there who would like to have a seat on committees such as these two (the Bowater and Pioneer Chemical) would be most welcome. Just let your interest be known.
This article appeared in the Campbellton Tribune, in Mike's "Grains of Sand" column.
It is reproduced with Mike's permission.