The driveway to the Harmac Pulp Mill near Nanaimo is barricaded, and its smokestacks are dormant.

Its owner, Pope and Talbot, went bankrupt and the mill closed its doors this spring, putting its 500 employees out of work.

"Oh, everybody's worried," said one worker, Fred Greer.

There's a lot to worry about when pulp mills go broke. It's distressing for workers, but something more dangerous is left behind: a toxic environmental soup.

Everyone acknowledges this mill site is an environmental mess.

"There's a tremendous amount of contamination in the marine environment, the sediment on the land and in the air," said Ken Wu of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

"Dioxins and furans that are emitted from pulp mills are some of the most carcinogenic substances on earth," he said.

But no one so far has estimated how much it will cost to clean it up.

"A pulp mill that has been in existence for 60 years is definitely going to have some issues with regard to residues and contamination of the ground area," said Nanaimo Mayor Gary Korpan.

When the pulp mill in Port Alice went broke a couple of years ago, the new owner had was required to invest $45 million in the plant and equipment before its  liability for prior damage to the environment was extinguished.

"The municipality of Nanaimo has significant restrictions on its ability to pay for somebody else's pollution problem," said Korpan.

The ownership of the mill is in question. But for environmentalists, there's no doubt a major cleanup has to happen.

"It's got to get done right now," said Wu. "There's not question about that because there's a cost to leaving these places contaminated for future generations."

With a report by CTV British Columbia's Jim Beatty