Thursday, May 6, 2010 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Sewage-laden gunk raises stink in Sydney

By Laura Fraser - Cape Breton Bureau

SYDNEY ó Local residents are starting to kick up a stink about the odours coming off of the Sydney Tar Ponds site as the weather heats up and the digging continues.

Norman Williams owns two properties on Intercolonial Street, a residential road bordering the tar ponds. He had to hire exterminators last year to rid his rooming houses of rats that may have migrated from the sewage across the street. This year, he said, his rats have left, but the stench continues to turn away prospective tenants. "People come down to view a room or an apartment and they walk away because of the smell. Now theyíve got the cement trucks over there and thereís dust flying everywhere. Itís all over your vehicles, itís all over your house. It may not be a danger according to their monitors, but itís a nuisance."

The site contains about one million tonnes of soil and sediment contaminated by the run-off from 100 years of steelmaking. The tar ponds themselves stink of sewage, a smell that residents say has increased since the cleanup began. It is slated to end in May 2014.

Marlene Kane, a local environmental activist, said she is concerned that the smell itself can cause health problems and that it could be an indicator that cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons may have been released into the atmosphere. "I have absolutely no confidence in the air monitoring thatís in place. At times when the stench is overpowering, we go back and check to see the results of the air monitoring reports. It shows nothing. It seems that we have no protection because (the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency) is totally relying on the readings of these air monitors to make decisions that affect the community."

But Donnie Burke, the agencyís project manager, said that he has complete confidence in the safety measures. The real-time air monitoring systems are checked every 15 minutes to ensure one is always positioned upwind and another downwind of the work, he said. He said the smell will likely continue to blow off the work site until construction on the south pond is complete in late June. Until then, crews have been using odour-suppressant foam and water to try to mitigate the problem, Burke said.

After hearing reports of the smell, Bernadette MacNeil sent out an email to some of the tour guides who may encounter passengers from the May 12 cruise ship coming into Sydney. Up to 85,000 passengers could come through the port this summer, said the manager of cruise and marketing development for the Sydney Ports Corp. "Iím not concerned that we would lose any business from it, but I guess we can be expecting some comments or questions from the visitors," MacNeil said. "We will be proactive as opposed to waiting until the questions come, and explain that if you smell anything that is unpleasant that it would be the work of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency and that itís hopefully all for a good cause in the end."

G. Fred Lee, a public health scientist and a civil engineer from California, has spent much of his career looking at the techniques used to remediate waste sites. Odours themselves can be a public health concern, he said, because it can become an irritant for those constantly exposed. To contain the odours and minimize the risk of any airborne toxins, he said the work should be done under a dome. The air could then be filtered before being released into the atmosphere. ( lfraser@herald.ca)