Environment department investigating substance spotted in St. Croix River

(Submitted photo) Cathie McElman is concerned about the white substances she’s spotted floating down the St. Croix River recently. The provincial Department of Environment and Climate Change confirmed it’s investigating the substance following a complaint.

ST. STEPHEN – The provincial Department of Environment and Climate Change is investigating a report of a substance that has been seen in the St. Croix River on multiple occasions.

St. Stephen resident Cathie McElman said she first spotted chunks of an unknown white, foamy substance in the morning between Sept. 23 and 30, then again on Oct. 25 and 26.

“There was this white stuff floating down the river in the morning and I thought, ‘what is that?’ It’s really weird, it looks like some of them are big and some are small; sometimes there’s a lot and sometimes there’s just a little,” she said. “I know it was seven consecutive days before the 30th of September and then these last two days.”

Noting that the substance doesn’t appear during specific weather or temperatures, McElman said other people have also seen the same thing.

“I know I’m not the only one asking that question because other people that I know live along the river have been kind of talking about it as well and we’re all just saying, ‘what is that?’ I know at least four people, probably five, who have seen it,” she said. “One fellow said he saw it in Saint Andrews, which I thought was interesting. And he said, at first, he really thought that it was just a white boat off in the distance and then as it got closer, he realized it wasn’t a boat, it was foam, or something. I don’t know what it is.”

McElman took pictures of the substance and contacted the Saint Croix Courier.

“It’s on both sides of the river, and in the middle too … It’s throughout the whole river,” she said. “I see it floating down from the border because that’s how far I can see upriver.”

The substance is hard to describe, said McElman.

“It’s floating on top. If this was spring, you might think it was chunks of snow that formed into ice,” she described.

Department of Environment and Climate Change spokesperson Heather Pert confirmed the department’s regional office received a complaint on Oct. 27 and they are investigating.

NB Power communications specialist Dominique Couture said she reached out to the project team in charge of the decommissioning of the Milltown Dam.

“It’s unlikely this is related to the Milltown Decommissioning Project,” she wrote in an email. “We test the river daily to monitor turbidity and if there is something unusual, we would know.”

Neil Barry, executive director of the St. Croix International Waterway Commission, said they’re aware of the substance but can’t provide comment on its origin.

While Eastern Charlotte Waterways doesn’t typically work in the river, executive director Briana Cowie said “foam can be very typical for river systems.”

The sightings have raised a lot of questions for McElman.

“If this is pollution, this is really gross, and if it isn’t pollution, and it’s biological, what is it, and is it OK or isn’t it OK?”


Jake Boudrot

A graduate of St. Francis Xavier University and a resident of Arichat, Jake Boudrot is an award-winning journalist with decades of experience as a freelancer, reporter and editor representing media outlets across the Maritimes.