Misplaced censure fails to explain parked sludge

Letter by Marlene Kane
Cape Breton Post
Mon., Aug. 15, 2005

On Aug. 4, Parker Donham, communications consultant with the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, criticized a Cape Breton Post article (Future Home of Domtar Tank Goop Remains a Mystery, July 29), saying it contained several factual errors and one major misconception. The only misconception I could find was in Donhamís response Operational Glitches a Fact of Life for Cleanup).

He said: "At no time was naphthalene recorded in residential neighbourhoods at levels above, or even near, the strict standards in place for this project." Yet last year, Donham stated that "detailed lab analysis of a 24-hour air sample collected May 27 at the perimeter of the coke ovens site showed naphthalene in excess of our site standards." Donham seems to be suggesting that contamination stops at the fence and residential neighbourhoods donít border on the perimeter of the coke ovens site.

It also sounds as if their stationary air monitors are always turned on to detect exceedences which may occur in residential neighbourhoods. The fact is the monitors are turned only one day out of six when work is taking place. Who knows what levels are reaching neighbourhoods for the other five days.

Hand-held air monitors, unlike stationary monitors, are used on a daily basis on site. They are not used continuously, as has been suggested in the past. These monitors failed to detect the leak in May.

It may not have registered on STPAís on-site air monitors but it registered in residentís noses for days -- residents who are living in the same neighbourhood where there has, surprisingly, never been a recorded naphthalene exceedence except at the site perimeter.

Since hand-held air monitors used on site failed to detect the leak in May, new hand-held monitors were brought in so that better real-time air quality checks could be conducted. Unfortunately, it wasnít the improved hand-held monitors which alerted STPA to the second naphthalene leak in September; it was apparently Donhamís nose -- he noticed a smell when he was driving by. Air quality tests were then ordered.

So we have on-site air monitors that have failed to detect leaks and off-site monitors which are turned off five days out of six. It seems the only reliable air monitor for detecting naphthalene exceedences is our nose.

Donham states that "removal work also stopped a few times during windy weather, not because excess levels were recorded but because it was impossible to maintain negative pressure inside the building during extreme winds." But when the shutdown occurred in November because of this very problem, there were indeed unacceptable levels of naphthalene recorded.

Unfortunately, Donhamís response failed to clarify the whole point of the original July 29 article. Why is 1,500 tonnes of Domtar tank goop still sitting in Sydney in railcars, with apparently no place to go? The future home of the Domtar tankís goop seems to be as much of a mystery as what goes on inside STPAís closed-door community liaison meetings.

Marlene Kane,
Sydney