Governments plowing ahead with ‘cleanup’that will have to be done again
By Marlene Kane
Cape Breton Post
Fri., Apr. 20, 2007
Recently, governments announced
their latest plans to "clean up" the
Sydney tar ponds using a "proven"
technology. This plan is not a cleanup,
nor has it been proven on the tar
Using a process called stabilization
and solidification, 700,000 tonnes of
toxic sludge in the tar ponds will be
mixed with well over 100,000 tonnes
of cement and slag, then hidden
under 600,000 tonnes of geo-materials.
How disappointing that the best
"cleanup" government could come up
with is to bury it — sweep it under the
rug and hope everyone forgets what’s
really under there. What they’re proposing
cleans up nothing.
As presented by the Sydney Tar
Ponds Agency during the joint environmental
panel review hearings last
year, solidification should increase
compressive strength of the sediments
to support heavy equipment
during remediation and for future
uses. Stabilization should reduce the
risk of contaminants leaching into the
environment. However, preliminary
stabilization and solidification testing
on tar ponds sediments indicated just
Out of 23 samples tested for compressive
strength, all failed but one.
Instead of increasing in strength, samples
got weaker over a two-week period.
Instead of reducing the leaching of
some contaminants, mixing the
sludge with cement actually increased
the leaching by a significant amount.
More recent testing also showed
increased leaching of contaminants
following stabilization and solidification
There were also concerns that stabilization
and solidification would
destabilize certain contaminants that
are considered stable now. The panel
was not assured that PCBs would be
stabilized following stabilization and
solidification, which is all the more
worrisome now that governments
have decided to bury all PCBs in the
tar ponds rather than remove them.
Unfortunately, more recent stabilization
and solidification testing
failed to address the panel’s concerns
about PCBs because the samples tested
did not contain any PCBs.
It is expected that when cement is
mixed with the tar ponds sludge,
there will be a chemical reaction that
releases heat, causing increased contaminant
emissions. Although the air
quality impacts from this action have
not yet been determined, government
has already decided none of this will
be performed within an enclosure to
protect the surrounding community.
While workers will wear protective
gear, residents will have to rely on air
monitors for protection — the very air
monitors that failed us repeatedly in
It was not surprising that the panel
stated in its conclusions that it was
not convinced the stabilization and
solidification technology is proven or
suitable for use in the tar ponds. The
panel said further testing is required
before funds are provided or
approvals issued to proceed with stabilization
and solidification. Environment
Canada obviously came to the
same conclusion when it too recommended
A cement industry representative
stated during the panel hearings that
stabilization and solidification on
organics, the type of sediments within
the tar ponds, remains a challenge.
The panel also heard that new methods
for treating organics are evolving.
It’s challenging, it’s evolving: I thought
it was proven.
So while STPA presented stabilization
and solidification as a proven,
permanent, walk-away solution for
the tar ponds, there is absolutely no
proof that it will work to begin with,
never mind in the long term. And far
from stabilization and solidification
being a walk-away solution, the panel
cautions that we may have to manage
this site forever. Unfortunately, there
won’t be any money left to do that.
How did this project come so far
based on an unproven technology
and test results that raised more red
flags than green ones?
STPA continually mentions there
have been 950 public meetings since
the condemned burial plan of 1996,
and that the time for talk is over.
These officials said: "No community
in Canada has ever had so much voice
in a major environmental cleanup." If
that were true, why did governments
completely ignore the community’s
preference for a real cleanup? Instead,
governments chose a method which
is not yet proven on the tar ponds and
which is not a permanent solution.
Eventually this site will have to be
excavated and remediated properly
by future generations. The difficulty
then is that the job will be much more
expensive to do, the material much
more difficult to get at, and there will
be a lot more than 700,000 tonnes to
Hundreds of millions of dollars will
be wasted covering up the problem
instead of cleaning it up, and Sydney
will still be home to Canada’s largest
toxic waste site.
Marlene Kane lives in Sydney.