Pollution test Irving takes issue with has been used “to the benefit of all Canadians”

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Our Fundy Baykeeper, Matt Abbott, told CBC New Brunswick the pollution test that Irving Pulp and Paper claims is being applied unconstitutionally has in fact been used across the country for decades “to the benefit of all Canadians.”

Last year, Irving Pulp and Paper was charged under the Fisheries Act with 15 counts of dumping a harmful substance into the St. John River. Because the company has past pollution convictions, it could face a minimum fine of $3 million if found guilty on all counts.

The trial is expected to last around six weeks and get underway in 2018.

In court documents filed in August, the company says its defence will include a Charter challenge against the way the ‘acute lethality test’ — which has been used to prevent pollution across the country for decades — is applied by Environment Canada in its pollution regulations.

In a CBC article published Oct. 13, Lynn McCarty, an Ontario-based eco-toxicologist who has done consulting work for J.D. Irving Ltd. in the past, invoked the old “safe enough to drink” schtick in defending Irving’s position.

“I can open a case of scotch, pour it into an aquarium, put a fish in there. He dies. Then, my God. Alcohol is toxic, so we shouldn’t be exposed to it. But people drink it every day and manage to get by because they’re not exposed as much as that fish was,” McCarty said.

Les Burridge, a retired toxicologist who worked at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for 35 years, stands behind the test and its importance for preventing water pollution.

Burridge said that polluted water can have sub-lethal effects, including on fish reproduction or the elimination of the animal’s food source.

“We would typically say that lethality tests are designed to identify a hazard,” Burridge said. “And that then that piece of information, along with other things, are used to assess risk. [The fish] might not eat as well, they might not grow as well.”

Echoing Burridge, our Fundy Baykeeper told the CBC that the test follows the precautionary principle and is used precisely because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to prove a potential pollutant’s harmful impact on wildlife and the environment after it has been released into a river, harbour, or other body of water.

“This is a really important part of the Fisheries Act that has been applied to great effect to the benefit of all Canadians,” Abbott said.

We’ll bring you more on this story as it develops.

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