Before recommending cleanup options, JAG did its homework thoroughly
Letter to the editor from Francis Sirois
Cape Breton Post Weekend Feedback
Saturday, Feb. 14, 2004
Hydrocarbon residuals extracted as part of the tar ponds
cleanup could be burned in a power generating plant if Nova Scotia Power Inc.
actually decided to co-operate
Bruno Marcocchio's claims that
the Joint Action Group failed
its mandate (Weekend Feedback: On the Contrary, JAG
Failed Its Own Mandate - Feb. 7) is typical
of this Sierra Club employee who
may be a bit upset that his cause celebre
is disappearing. Rest assured that,
just like a weather vane, he will be
against anything that any organization
proposes if it doesn't meet his
Within months of the creation of
JAG, his antics led to his ouster.
His knowledge of JAG's activities appears
frozen to that time.
He cites Edward Furimsky from
2002 as saying that extensive sampling
would be needed. In fact, JAG
launched a whole series of projects to
define the site's problems.
More than 120,000 lab analyses
were performed in conjunction with
the Canadian Council of Ministers of
the Environment Phase 2 and 3 investigations
for the coke ovens site and
adjacent areas. For the tar ponds,
some 30,000 lab analyses were added
to confirm and further add to the
extensive data that already existed.
Within the tar ponds, bore holes
were dug at every 50 metres. Detailed
maps of the contaminants were created,
including ones showing the distribution of PCBs.
In the tar ponds there is no single
"30,000 ton PCB hot spot" which will
be ignored in the cleanup, as Mr. Marcocchio
claims. Instead there are multiple,
well-mapped, very thin layers of
PCB-contaminated sediments in four
areas of the north pond.
It has been estimated that of the
total 35,000 tonnes in the north pond,
18,704 tonnes will be detectable at the
more than 50 parts per million (ppm)
which is considered PCB material.
PCB was just an insulating oil
used in older generations of high
voltage transformers. None of it was
produced on the site and none was
found on the coke ovens site. Nevertheless,
obvious quantities of it were
dumped into the tar ponds.
PCB-contaminated sediments represents
a rather minor percentage of
the whole cleanup job for the site -
some 1.2 tonnes overall.
For some reason, Mr Marcocchio
and the Sierra Club of Canada are
pushing the Eco Logic process
because it is a so-called "closed loop"
system. The reality is quite different.
I did attend the recent Eco Logic presentation
by Beth Kummling to six
people but Mr. Marcocchio wasn't
present; facts are not his forte.
The Eco Logic two-step process
actually includes three emission
stacks: two stacks fed by recycled gases,
presumably 100 per cent purified
by the second-stage injection of pure
hydrogen, to heat both the thermal
desorption leg and the hydrogen gas
phase reduction segment; a third
stack is used on the tail end to burn
off gases that are not recycled (some
15 per cent).
At a closely supervised U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency pilot
project at a New Bedford Harbour
Superfund site in Massachusetts, the
amount of dioxins and furans present
in the off-gas actually increased in
the Eco Logic process compared to
original concentrations in the input
sediments in two of the three monitored tests.
Maybe more telling on actual effectiveness
is that the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers tested and funded just
about all technologies that existed for
some 15 years, including Eco Logic's,
for huge stockpiles of contaminants,
waste munitions, experimental
weapons, and the like. After all these
tests, the army chose to go to full scale
with plasma arc technology preceded
by a thermal desorption leg to concentrate
and reduce volumes to be
treated at the new Nevada disposal
When pilot scale tests were conducted
on samples of the tar ponds in
2001-02, Eco Logic bowed out, claiming
it needed several times the basic
$50,000 grant that was offered to all the
candidate technologies to verty their
effectiveness on two barrels of actual
The gas-phase hydrogen reduction
process, preceded by a thermal desorption
step, is indeed a very elegant
technique. I don't doubt that for
chlorinated contaminated sediments such
as PCBs or pesticides (which we don't
have on the site), this process is a possible solution.
In the 15-plus years of its existence,
the Eco Logic process has been used
to treat a combined worldwide total of
some 3000 tonnes of contaminated
materials. Although recent improvements
in the process, particularly in
the thermal desorption leg, make it a
viable option for the treatment of
some of the recoverable 20,000 tonnes
of PCB-contaminated materials from
the tar ponds (part of JAG's recom-
mendation on usable alternatives for
these contaminants), this treatment
train is not a proven technique for the
scale of this cleanup.
Technically I also question that for
the bulk of the PAH-contaminated
sediments (40 per cent of which by dry
weight are just coal and coke fines in
the tar ponds) the injection of more
hydrogen into gases with already saturated
hydrogen molecules is even a
Once dehydrated (as part of the recommended
co-combustion treatment train), the extracted
hydrocarbon residuals are indeed a recyclable
source of fuel for blending into the
similar fuel stream used by power
generating plants or cement kiln centrals.
Who knows? If Nova Scotia Power
Inc. actually decides to co-operate, this
might even help stave off yet another
electricity bill increase. Dare I dream
of a five to 10 per cent reduction in my
electrical bill, proportional to the
site's potential contribution in the
supply of a safe and usable fuel,
once the material is pre-treated?
The recent federal announcement
of $500 million for the cleanup
of a limited number of Canadian sites
- in particular the coke ovens and
tar ponds, which won't start until some
time in 2005, allowing for a federal
environmental review and other
preparations - is due not to Mr.
Marcocchio or to any of his Sierra
club members who are now anxious to
take the credit (a noise factor more than anything)
Many thanks are due to JAG chair
Dan Fraser, all of JAG's volunteers
and the secretariat for ensuring sound
standards were indeed put in place to
ensure that a safe cleanup will be
conducted on the site.
Thanks must also go to MPs Mark
Eyking and Rodger Cuzner for their
untiring efforts to ensure that JAG's
did not die in the backrooms of Parliament.
This much needed economic boost
to the area needs ongoing support by
all parties and individuals.
Francis Sirois of North Sydney is a
long-serving JAG member