Pilot study investigating ambient air toxics emissions near a Canadian kraft pulp and paper facility in Pictou County, Nova Scotia


Air toxics are airborne pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, including certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), prioritized by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While several EPA-designated air toxics are monitored at a subset of Canadian National Air Pollution Surveillance (NAPS) sites, Canada has no specific “air toxics” control priorities. Although pulp and paper (P&P) mills are major industrial emitters of air pollutants, few studies quantified the spectrum of air quality exposures. Moreover, most NAPS monitoring sites are in urban centers; in contrast, rural NAPS sites are sparse with few exposure risk records. The objective of this pilot study was to investigate prioritized air toxic ambient VOC concentrations using NAPS hourly emissions data from a rural Pictou, Nova Scotia Kraft P&P town to document concentration levels, and to determine whether these concentrations correlated with wind direction at the NAPS site (located southwest of the mill). Publicly accessible Environment and Climate Change Canada data (VOC concentrations [Granton NAPS ID: 31201] and local meteorological conditions [Caribou Point]) were examined using temporal (2006–2013) and spatial analytic methods. Results revealed several VOCs (1,3-butadiene, benzene, and carbon tetrachloride) routinely exceeded EPA air toxics-associated cancer risk thresholds. 1,3-Butadiene and tetrachloroethylene were significantly higher (p < 0.05) when prevailing wind direction blew from the northeast and the mill towards the NAPS site. Conversely, when prevailing winds originated from the southwest towards the mill, higher median VOC air toxics concentrations at the NAPS site, except carbon tetrachloride, were not observed. Despite study limitations, this is one of few investigations documenting elevated concentrations of certain VOCs air toxics to be associated with P&P emissions in a community. Findings support the need for more research on the extent to which air toxics emissions exist in P&P towns and contribute to poor health in nearby communities.

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Correspondence to Emma Hoffman.

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Responsible editor: Constantini Samara

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Hoffman, E., Guernsey, J.R., Walker, T.R. et al. Pilot study investigating ambient air toxics emissions near a Canadian kraft pulp and paper facility in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. Environ Sci Pollut Res 24, 20685–20698 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-9719-5

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  • Air toxics
  • Air quality
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Community health
  • Pulp and paper
  • Cancer risk