Tembec's Temiscaming, Que. operation has been plagued with a host of effluent treatment challenges, and it has not been for the lack of trying to find a solution.
In fact, in the last 14 years the company has spent over $150 million on new treatment systems.
The company spent millions of dollars doubling its clarifying capacity only to find it did not solve the problem, says Frank Dottori, president and CEO.
They put in a $2-million modified spill basin in and it has not solved the problem. They increased capacity to the overall system by 30 per cent last year. That also solved nothing. It has been a personal frustration for Dottori.
"Before I retire I am going to fix that damn thing if it is the last thing I do," he says.
In December, Environment Canada sent in a team to seize files from Tembec's offices. The Temiscaming operations failed to meet two government regulations, Dottori says - a toxicity test and a suspended solids formula. Fish are released into the effluent treated by the plant, and if the fish survive for five days, the plant passes the toxicity test.
"We failed once or twice on those," he says.
The Temiscamgue plant exceeded suspended solids formula 10 times in one day, Dottori says. The problem stemmed from the biological processes in the treatment system. Bugs are commonly put into the wood waste or sludge to eat off the cellulose, a byproduct of the milling process. When the bugs get ill they float to the top and spill over into the river.
For every day the company exceeds the regulations they are penalized. If it takes 18 days to bring the numbers down to acceptable levels, they could have 18 charges.
An Environment Canada spokeperson would not comment on the incident since the mill is under investigation.
In moderation these bugs become a food source for marine habitat. Effluent locations are becoming spawning grounds for marine habitat.
However, cellulose is deemed toxic since it eats up oxygen as it rots, Dottori says. As a result, it depletes the oxygen intake for aquatic life. There is no detrimental effect on the oxygen supply, even 300 feet past the effluent, Dottori says.
"We remove 98 per cent of the problem through treatment.
Dottori supports the government in its efforts to be diligent on environmental issues, but the government holds some of the toughest regulations on effluents in the world.
"When we exceed we leave our selves open for legal action. It is in our interest to solve the problem. I would love to find a solution; we want to meet (the regulations), we are exasperated when we can't."
At a time when Tembec is winning awards for using wood waste to substitute fossil fuels, being hailed for their best forest practices, this hurts their corporate image, he says.
"After 14 years we still have not been able to solve it."
Similar technology is found at the mills in Kapuskasing and Pine Falls and according to Dottori they work like a charm. But for some reason the Temiscaming plant offers a host of challenges. Experts were brought in from across the globe to offer solutions on what is probably the most complex water treatment site in existence, he says.
Right now a team from Russia is mulling possible alternatives.
"We have to prove our due diligence."