Secrecy over gas leak disturbing - Morgan
John Morgan, mayor of Cape Breton Regional
Municipality, wants some answers about a
hushed-up release of naphthalene from cleanup
operations at the old tar ponds site.
Tar ponds agency waited three days to notify public of naphthalene problem
By MATT HUNT GARDNER
SYDNEY - Mayor John Morgan expressed anger Tuesday that a provincial agency took
three days to tell the public that a hazardous gas had leaked from the Domtar
tank cleanup site.
In fact, the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency didn't even let him know what had happened,
said the mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality.
"I find this whole situation disturbing," Mr. Morgan said. "A dangerous gas was
leaking into the municipality, and they didn't even call the mayor."
The agency received test results Friday from an air monitoring station reporting
an elevated level of naphthalene in the air in Sydney on or before May 27.
The agency didn't inform the public of the leak until Monday.
"It's one of the problems we've had, the provincial and federal governments not
disclosing information about what's been going on at the cleanup site with the
public and my office," Mr. Morgan said by cellphone en route to Halifax.
Naphthalene is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon that smells like mothballs when
released into the air. The United States Environmental Protection Agency says
naphthalene can cause hemolytic anemia, cataracts, jaundice, nausea, vomiting
or abdominal pain.
About a dozen residents who said they experienced recent nausea and headaches in
recent days tried to deliver letters to Mr. Morgan, but he had already left
He said he would read faxed copies of the letters when he got to Halifax and
that he would write to the federal and provincial governments about the leak.
Cape Breton Nova MLA Gordie Gosse said the problem has been going on longer than
a few days.
"For weeks there has been a strong odour coming from the site, and people in the
community have been becoming more and more concerned," Mr. Gosse said in a news
"Now we learn we've been breathing in unacceptably high levels of a dangerous
chemical. As soon as the tar ponds agency had any suspicion there was a risk,
keeping the community informed should have been their No. 1 priority."
Valerie Bellefontaine of the provincial Environment Department said an officer
has been sent to the site to investigate, and the agency's Parker Donham said
he would post air-monitoring data, dating back to 2002, on the agency's website
(www.gov.ns.ca/stpa) as early as Tuesday night.
Test results that the agency gave to the media on Tuesday show naphthalene was
the only chemical, of about 40 measured, that registered higher than standards
used in Sydney. These are outlined in a provincial Interim Separation Zone
report published in 2000.
A sample collected May 27 at Curry's Lane and analysed by AMEC Earth and
Environmental showed levels of naphthalene of 12.3 micrograms per square metre
of air. The Sydney standard is three micrograms per square metre.
But the other five air-monitoring stations in Sydney measured levels of
naphthalene well below the Sydney standard, according to the test results.
Samples from the air-monitoring stations are taken every six days or 12 days,
depending on what work is being done by cleanup crews, and it takes another
five to six days for the results to get back to the agency.
Clean Harbours Canada Ltd. of Sarnia, Ont., has the $3.6-million contract to
clean up the Domtar tank, which contains toxins similar to those of the tar
The firm stopped its work Monday and had not resumed it Tuesday.
Mr. Donham said gummed-up charcoal filters or a faulty exhaust fan in the
building surrounding the tank are suspected to have allowed the leak to occur.