Home Workplace Safety & OHS Rotten seafood smell might force school in eastern New Brunswick to shut its doors

Rotten seafood smell might force school in eastern New Brunswick to shut its doors

by Local Journalism Initiative
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A school in eastern New Brunswick is warning parents it might have to suddenly close if the rotten odour of a nearby shellfish processing plant continues to be a problem.

École Soleil-Levant, which serves more than 200 kindergarten to Grade 8 students in the small community of Richibucto, had to shut its ventilation temporarily last week because of the foul air from the Coastal Shell Products’ facility.

The school’s principal, Rhéal Allain, told Brunswick News Monday he wasn’t authorized to speak to media and referred questions to Francophone South School District, whose spokesperson, Jeanelle Theriault, did not respond for comment.

However, a note sent on Tuesday to parents whose children attend the school was leaked to Brunswick News.

“We would like to inform you that we are aware of the foul smells that were present last week and that we take this situation seriously,” the bulletin from the school states. “Our priority is to keep the school open as much as possible, but we still want to ensure the health and well-being of our students and staff.”

The school officials told parents they have revised the existing emergency response plan in collaboration with the school district but that they may be forced to close the school if the odour becomes bad again. The note also asks parents to pay close attention to messages from the school in the morning.

“We may also have to contact you by phone,” it states.

After complaints were raised last week by the Kent Clean Air Action Committee, New Brunswick’s environment minister confirmed to Brunswick News that École Soleil-Levant had to shut its ventilation for about an hour last Thursday.

People in the riverside community of about 1,200 who live closest to the plant have complained for years about the horrible stink of rotting shellfish, and although improvements have been made, some locals still object to the industrial activity.

Environment Minister Glen Savoie told reporters at the legislature on Friday that the operating hours of Coastal Shell Products were supposed to be 8 p.m to 8 a.m. and odours shouldn’t be a problem during school hours. The school is only a few hundred metres from the plant.

“If there are other activities that were going on that created the issue, I have to verify that. But it’s not supposed to be operating at that time in the morning. My understanding is the ventilation at the school was shut off for an hour on Thursday.”

Maisie Rae McNaughton, a member of the committee who lives close to the plant, says there were reports from residents on June 6 who could smell the odour from up to 10 kilometres away. She doesn’t think people should have to put up with the rotten smell day or night.

On Friday, she wrote an open letter addressed to government officials, including Education Minister Bill Hogan. She said the problem at the school persisted on Friday.

“How much longer do people have to suffer until your government collectively decides to end this nightmare? It’s been eight years of this continuous horror show, and you are failing us. You are failing our citizens, you are failing the vulnerable, and today, you are failing the children.”

Green Party leader David Coon was blistering in his criticism.

“It’s the kind of smell that makes you puke. This would be awful for those students,” he told reporters at the legislature.

Coon said throughout New Brunswick, industrial activities are allowed too close to homes, schools and other businesses, in different cases creating odours, noise, pollution or safety concerns.

He said the problem in Richibucto, about 80 kilometres north of Moncton near the eastern coast, shows the province needs to come up with creative solutions to industrial activities that are incompatible with residential neighbourhoods.

“In this case, the government can work with the company to move it out of there and put it in a more appropriate place. There’s no question in mind that you can achieve that. You can achieve anything. You just have to set your mind to it, set this as a priority, this is unacceptable, clearly, and say, ‘we need to find a solution.'” 

Such a move would be costly because Coastal Shell Products would have to find another big plant. 

The crustacean shell drying facility accepts waste from 10 different lobster, crab and shrimp processing plants in the region. 

Seafood processing is a big employer in New Brunswick, with more than 4,000 working in the industry. The shellfish waste is transformed into fertilizer and animal feed and sold to export markets.

“Too often, these problems are handed to a department where public servants are too scared to offer creative solutions for fear of their heads being bitten off by the premier’s office,” Coon said.

“They don’t bring options for solutions that are creative. And that’s what’s so often wrong with governance these days. Our public service is handcuffed and fearful and stressed out. We need a civil service that can act professionally, do their jobs and present creative options to ministers to solve problems.”

Savoie said an inspector from his department was in the community last week to check on the problems and added that his government continues to work on trying to improve the situation.

But he said Coon’s idea of moving the plant was unworkable.

“David Coon would spend money until there’s none left. We have to make sure we find a balance between the interests of the residents of that community and also the interests of that business because it employs 26 people and underpins the processing industry. There are a lot of jobs on the line here, and they do a good job in terms of diverting, bio-organic waste from our landfills.”

Coastal Shell Products did not respond for comment.

However, last December it told Brunswick News it had committed $2 million in capital investment to keep the odours in check. It’s unclear if that project has been started yet.

“The owners and management of the company have heard the concerns of the public and are committed to resolving the issue,” it stated in the unsigned email of Dec. 2.

“Coastal Shell have engaged national experts to work with the company in solving the challenge. While the technology is being manufactured, Coastal Shell will continue to work with the Department of Environment to meet all requirements and regulations.” 

By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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