Change in wind the only help on offer to deal with tar ponds odours

Letter by CB Marlene Kane
Cape Breton Post
Mon., July 5, 2010

In late June the Department of Environment issued a directive to the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency to better manage the odours coming from the tar ponds, based on complaints the department received from the public. STPAís Communication Manager, Tanya Collier MacDonald, responded in interviews saying the agency wants people to be comfortable in their homes during the construction period and doesn't want this work to have a negative impact on the lives of those around the site. Well, itís too late on both counts. The terrible stench has been negatively impacting people and making them uncomfortable in and around their homes for the past number of months, and itís only getting worse.

This stench has permeated homes and businesses all over this city. People have complained for months; people are uncomfortable, worried, and feeling ill effects, but nothing has improved. In fact, the odours have become much worse. The only time one neighbourhood gets a break from the rotten chemical stench is when the wind changes direction and some other neighbourhood gets it. If the odours appear to be dissipating, itís not because any have been suppressed by STPA or any of the engineering firms involved including AECOM, CBCL and CRA.

Collier MacDonald admits there will always be an odour until the work is done, which means the agency canít control this problem regardless of any directives from the department. That is exactly why citizens asked the agency, government partners and consultants that if they were going to continue with this ridiculous cover-up plan, at least conduct the work under enclosures with negative pressure and carbon filters so that these emissions could be captured and filtered rather than be released into the air we breathe. STPA and their experts expected this excavation and mixing of hazardous waste in the tar ponds would damage the air but they still didnít act to protect us. The design engineering firm for the project has had experience doing this kind of work under an enclosure, so why wasnít it done here?

The agency is now using two kinds of foam which it says would dampen odours as hazardous waste is churned up in the tar ponds and mixed with cement powder, but unfortunately it hasnít made a bit of difference. These strong odours never go away; they just move in different directions. The agency and all of its consultants have done absolutely nothing that has helped to control these odours yet. They all seem to lack the expertise now that the problem is completely out of control. Whatís next? Nothing - because they are incapable of controlling these odors now that the whole site has been disturbed. Even when much of the tar ponds were flooded under several feet of water in early June, the stench took your breath away.

The environment department has stated it doesnít know what chemicals are causing these odours but is confident theyíre not dealing with a health risk. How can this possibly be stated? Shouldnít chemicals be identified first before stating whether or not they pose a health risk? People have complained about increased breathing difficulties, exhaustion, dry burning eyes, nose and throat, as well as nausea when the odours are in and around their homes. Whether the chemicals have been identified or not, they are still having an impact on peopleís health and well-being.

Despite the departmentís directive, we should not expect any change. Asking STPA to increase air monitoring is also a waste of time, considering that the useless monitors in place now have not detected any exceedences so far, according to Collier MacDonald, despite the stench. We donít need more of the same. We need air monitors that actually work to detect individual chemicals of concern which we can rely on to alert us in a timely manner. We need the remaining three or four years of this project to be conducted under enclosures, even if that does dip into everyoneís profit margin. We need politicians to step up to the plate and demand this.

What we really need here is an actual cleanup, rather than just a cover-up, but thatís not going to happen. We will be exposed to these airborne chemicals for years, while hazardous waste will just be covered up, and will still be leaching hazardous contaminants into the harbour for generations to come. Thatís the legacy all those involved in this project will be leaving behind.

Marlene Kane
Sydney