Irving Pulp Goes For The Gold In Pollution Prevention

February 2001

Irving Pulp and Paper says it is counting environmental coup with its new effluent treatment system, the result of six years of investment and trial and error. Basically, Irving had to do something about the effluent from its mill near the Reversing Falls in St. John New Brunswick. The reason? The Canadian government passed the 1992Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations lowering the permissible limits on Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and lethal toxicity (LC50). The new BOD limit was 7.5 kg/Air Dried Metric Tonne (ADMT) of pulp while the Irving mill was pumping out 30 – 35 kg/ADMT.

While other mills grumbled and invested in secondary effluent treatment, Irving found itself blocked from that route by a required environmental assessment. Further, as David Coons of the New Brunswick Environmental Council describes the situation, Irving’s proposed $58 million secondary treatment ponds were stopped by a “well organised and effective” local opposition.

Then Irving gambled, and embarked on a process of classic pollution prevention, using in-plant options to try and meet the regulatory standards. The process took six and a half years, and involved a multitude of changes, costing $300 million:

  • A new brownstock washing and screening line, capable of handling 1000 ADMT/day, and producing a 100% filtrate return, along with new control systems;
  • A unique new two stage oxygen delignification system capable of handling 1000 ADMT/day of hardwood and softwood fibre to 60% delignification;
  • A new foul condensate stripper to remove Total Reduced Sulphur (TRS) and BOD at 90% efficiency;
  • Additional evaporation capacity to compensate for the increased load to the recovery boiler, aided by the higher amount of solids produced by the brown stock washers;
  • Improved liquor spill recovery system;
  • Installation of capacity for 100% chlorine dioxide bleaching, with the use of hydrogen peroxide instead of methanol to manufacture the ClO2.

All of these technologies have been available for most of a decade and were used by the Scandinavian mills to meet pollution requirements there without secondary treatment. But the one innovation and the clear star of the process, as far as Irving is concerned, is its patented Reverse Osmosis system which cost $8 million to develop using Zenon Environmental technology. The system at Irving represents the first use at a pulp and paper mill. It uses 213 membranes to separate compounds in the effluent from the water. Lots of further fine tuning, repairs, and training was required. The mill has now added a new Scandinavian technology called a “moving bed bioreactor” which removes wood alcohol from one of the bleach plant streams.

The mill boasts that it is now in “full compliance with all 3 major components (suspended solids, toxicity and BOD) of the federal regulations.” That compliance has been achieved without a secondary treatment system, and presumably, without the accompanying mountains of industrial sludge which plague the rest of the industry.

Even more significantly, biologist Dr. Deborah MacLatchy, who has been studying endocrine reactions on fish immersed in differing process water streams, credits the reverse osmosis membranes with removing the bulk of endocrine disruptors in the effluent. MacLatchy has joined in a nomination of the mill for a Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Pollution Prevention Award, and is insistent that part of the mill’s distinction is the funding of extensive fish research, which has helped in the discovery of several endocrine disruptors in mill effluent, while allowing the researchers full academic freedom.

David Coons agrees that the Irving company, because it is family run, has always had somewhat different corporate behaviour and notes that most mills would not have invested such a sum of money in their search for pollution prevention: “Once they’ve made up their minds, they don’t let anyone stop them.” The Irving management, on the other hand, is clearly delighted with the business advantages of the steps they have taken, both in terms of market competition for their pulp, and straightforward efficiency. They point to “environmental and economic” benefits, as well as “the future of the pulp and paper industry.”

* Jay Ritchlin and Delores Broten; New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, January 2001; “Pollution Prevention at Irving Pulp and Paper: Six Innovations in its Evolution;” “Irving Pulp and Paper’s Pollution Prevention Strategy: An Alternative Route to Environmental Compliance.”



Making Girl Fish Into Boys

Another outstanding report by Janet Raloff in the January 6 issue of Science News summarizes startling research into the perplexing sex changes of fish downstream of southern US pulp mills. After 23 years of work, scientists have discovered that a plant sterol, in the mills’ effluent is transformed into a male hormone, androstenedione, by bacteria in the sediment. In humans, androstenedione triggers the production of testosterone, the body’s primary male hormone. It is a steroid used by weight lifters.

Consequently, female fish develop male sex characteristics although they still get pregnant. In one of the Alabama streams, all the female mosquitofish had developed gonopodium, a male anal fin used for copulation.

Scientists have discovered other compounds with similar male hormone, androgen, characteristics, and the EPA has announced that environmental monitoring shows that water upstream from the mill on the Fenoholloway River does not have a masculizing effect. The mill uses so much of the water from the river that at times it runs almost 100% effluent. Two other species of fish and eels also show hormonal effects, including males which become mature before their normal growth is completed.

In Sweden similar effects have been discovered downstream of two mills, effects which ceased when the mills were on a temporary shutdown, according to a report in Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry in December.

This startling research points out in dramatic fashion how flawed current ideas about pollution discharges “limits” and dispersal or dilution can be. It is sobering to realize how little we understand about the processes of biotransformation of chemicals by bacteria, not to mention the general fate of pollutants in the environment. It also points to the necessity of closed loop systems.

* Source: Janet Raloff, “Macho Waters,” Science News, January 6, 2001; Vol. 159, No. 1, Sodra Responze, 1999


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A New Solution: Clean Up The Pollution

Rather than permit the transport of the problem of gender bent fish to further shores, the American Canoe Association is suing US Environmental Protection Agency officials to force the EPA to hold a hearing on Buckeye mill’s proposed pipeline. The mill wants to clean up the polluted Fenholloway River by piping its waste discharge 15 miles from its plant in Perry Florida to near the Gulf of Mexico.

The EPA has stopped the scheme while it decides whether the plant should reduce pollution rather than build the pipeline. The American Canoe Association filed the federal lawsuit to force EPA to act and require Buckeye and Florida’s environment officials to obey state and federal water quality standards.

* Democrat, October 2000


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Step Off The Toxic Treadmill

Synthetic chemical pollutants that are poisoning both people and wildlife could be largely eliminated without disrupting the economy, reports a new study by the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington DC based environmental research organization. Evidence from three sectors that are major sources of these pollutants “paper manufacturing, pesticides, and PVC plastics,” shows that nontoxic options are available at competitive prices in today’s markets.

In Why Poison Ourselves? A Precautionary Approach to Synthetic Chemicals, Worldwatch Paper 153, Anne Platt McGinn analyzes the available alternatives in each sector:

  • In the paper manufacturing industry, 94 percent of the world’s bleached paper is made using chlorine–a process that spews out dioxin and hundreds of other dangerous organochlorines into water, soil and the paper itself. Chlorine free technology, which is significantly cheaper in the long run, has been available for ten years, but has been slow to be adopted. Jay Ritchlin’s work for Reach for Unbleached! on chlorine dioxide versus totally chlorine free bleaching (TCF is the first step to true pollution prevention) is cited in the references to the section on pulp and paper.
  • Polyvinylchoride (PVC) has become the second most common plastic on the planet, with an estimated 250 million tons in use. The entire cycle of manufacturing, consumption, and disposal of PVC throws off enormous quantities of toxic by products, yet there is a substitute for virtually every use to which PVC is put.
  • Farmers will use 2.5 million tons of pesticides on this year’s crops, pesticides that are 10-100 times more potent than formulations used just 25 years ago. Integrated pest management techniques, which in many cases reduce costs and increase crop yields, use a combination of natural pest control methods, with limited use of pesticides as a last resort.

“Adopting the precautionary principle is a way to take out an insurance policy against our own ignorance,” said McGinn. “We rarely understand environmental risks until after the damage is done, as we’ve seen over and over with POPs. The precautionary principle shifts the burden of proof to the industry, requiring them to prove that the risks are not unreasonable.”

* Available as an Adobe PDF file for $5 on the Worldwatch web site at: World Watch (link expired) publications or call 1(800)555-2028


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On The Sludge Trail


The US EPA has set the maximum acceptable level of acrylamide in drinking water at zero due to the short and long term health consequences of exposure – nervous system impairment, paralysis and cancers of the sexual organs, lungs, and skin. Acrylamide is the base ingredient for polyacylamide polymers which are used as a coagulant to settle out turbidity in drinking water, to improve production from oil wells, in making organic chemicals and dyes, in the sizing of paper and permanent press textiles, in ore processing, in the construction of dam foundations and tunnels. Oh, and for contact lenses.

What’s that got to do with price of pulp and paper? Quite a lot, it seems, since the US industry consumes 20% of the 120 million pounds produced in that country each year.

Polyacrylamide polymers are often used as floculents (settling agents) in waste water systems for both sewage sludge and paper sludge. In the production of these materials a small percentage (the company reports 0.1%) is the acutely toxic substance: acrylamide monomer. It readily leaches from sludges because it is hydrophilic (water loving) and does not adhere to organic particles.

According to Ontario sludge buster Maureen Reilly, Atlantic Packaging management stated at a meeting in Ontario last July that they used 5 kg of polyacrylamide per tonne of sludge, with a toxic component of acrylomide at 0.1%. Reilly calculates that 10,000 tonnes of sludge would contain 50 kilos of this hazardous leachable toxin. Reilly points out that the company currently has a mountain of paper sludge sitting in a sand and gravel pit north of Oshawa on the eastern end of the environmentally sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine.

Just one more threat to groundwater, and one more reason to refuse sludge land spreading without rigorous toxicological testing.

* Delores Broten and Maureen Reilly. See also:

EPA Fact sheet on acrylamide


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Reach For Unbleached! Internet Presence Continues To Grow With Improved Web Site

In the year 2000 we unveiled our new and improved web site, packed with information on stopping pulp pollution and promoting clean paper. One section not yet finished is the photo collection – so if you have a favourite pulp and paper mill picture, good, bad, or beautiful, send it along and we’ll tack it up on the world wide web this spring.

We’ve reorganised our pages so that people can find the information they want, no matter if this is the first time they’ve ever wondered about that rotten egg smell in a pulp town, or if they’re looking for the latest updates on clean pulp mill science and technology. Our site is now searchable, making it even easier to find information.

The site has easy ways to order environmentally responsible paper, find out how to stop pulp mill sludge from being dumped on your food, or learn about Totally Chlorine Free, Zero Discharge pulp mills that could lead to sustainable jobs and a healthier environment. People can, and do, send information inquiries and become members and donors of Reach for Unbleached! All from web pages specially designed to make our work more interactive.

Reach for Unbleached! has been growing for nearly ten years, and our website just got its wisdom teeth in! We’ve gone from around 5000 hits per month a couple of years ago to over a thousand a day (2001). This valuable resource is letting us communicate our message to people around the world who want clean pulp and paper production.