Cleanup unveiling draws near |
By Steve MacLeod / The Canadian Press
After 950 public meetings, more than 600 scientific papers and enough hot air to
float a blimp, the oft-delayed cleanup of Canada's worst environmental mess is
poised to clear a major hurdle.
Or bog down again in spit and vitriol.
The location of a controversial incinerator designed to burn chemical-laden
sludge from the tar ponds of a blighted Sydney neighbourhood is expected to be
revealed in days.
Details are also expected to be released of a pending environmental assessment
of the $400-million plan to rid Cape Breton's largest community of pollution
caused by almost a century of steelmaking.
"We've waited long enough for this," Alastair MacLeod, a Sydney dentist and
chairman of a community liaison group involved in the project, said in a recent
"This is hurting our image. It's hurting our prospects for employment. It's
time to get on with it."
Located in the heart of a working-class neighbourhood, the tar ponds are fouled
by a reeking chemical stew of raw sewage, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,
heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs and other toxins.
A 200-page federal-provincial plan is expected to be released shortly for the
cleanup of both the ponds and the adjacent former grounds of the sprawling
Sydney Steel mill.
The 10-year plan calls for tonnes of the most toxic material to be removed from
the 100-hectare site and incinerated over three years.
Remaining materials will be either encapsulated on site or exposed to
Environmentalist David Suzuki recently called the plan to bury or burn the
worst of the contaminants "the dumbest idea."
Opponents fear such methods will expose Sydney's 40,000 residents to even
greater health risks and have called for a full panel review - a form of
environmental assessment conducted by an independent panel and not by
Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, said her group
will do "everything possible" to stop incineration.
"It's a completely unacceptable plan," she said last week from Ottawa. "They're
hoping people are just so tired - and I don't blame them, I'm tired, too - that
they'll just say, 'Let's get on with it and do this bad cleanup because at
least then it's over with."'
Premier John Hamm has gone on record as opposing a full-panel review, saying
recently that it's not necessary.
The debate over what to do about the tar ponds, which empty into Sydney
harbour, has gone on for over 20 years and eaten up about $140 million beyond
the $400 million now earmarked for cleanup.
Francis Sirois, who headed a former group charged with overseeing the cleanup,
said that while opinions differ on how to solve the problem, everyone agrees on
"They want the sore taken away in some fashion as quickly as possible - that's
the only message you could say is universal," he said.
Parker Donham, a spokesman for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said the problem
has "cast a stigma over Sydney" and hurt everyone.
"Once big, yellow machines are working on the site and people are walking
through the gates with lunch boxes, people will feel better about it," he said.
"And people won't feel better about it until then."