Study hints at toxic site evacuation

Report suggests buffer zone between cleanup, residential areas

By Tera Camus / Cape Breton Bureau, Halifax Chronicle Herald, February 10, 1999
Sydney - Residents living near the toxic coke ovens and tar ponds sites might have to be moved out when a cleanup begins, says a government-funded report released Tuesday.

CBCL Ltd. and Conestoga-Rovers and Associates Ltd., in a report that was presented to the Joint Action Group for Environmental Cleanup on Tuesday night, say an investigation should consider whether "separation zones" will be necessary.

"The development of a separation zone should also be considered as a temporary measure, effected during the life of the remedial work program, but no longer required when the site has been fully remediated and the lands returned to an acceptable land use," says the report funded by Environment Canada and the Joint Action Group.

The report commissioned in 1998 cites several streets that could be declared part of a red zone before and during any cleanup at the coke ovens site.

Those include Frederick Street, Curry's Lane, Tupper Street and the north and south sides of the Victoria Road overpass that goes over the coke ovens site.

"Initiate the process ... to define an appropriate separation zone to distance residential land use from anticipated investigation and remediation activities," the report says.

Frederick Street resident Juanita McKenzie, who also sits on the committee hearing the recommendations, pressed fellow members to take action.

"This is a very disturbing report," she said. "We have to take action now. We have to get this area cleaned up. I feel the recommendations put forward are very powerful and should be adhered to with us in mind."

Frederick Street residents have been pressing governments to move them out of the area before any work proceeds.

Another buffer zone could include the areas surrounding the tar ponds in downtown Sydney. The area includes Sysco, residences, a bus depot, municipal buildings and a car dealership.

The criteria used to establish these zones include the proximity of residences to the cleanup sites and the potential health risks through exposure to dust and fumes or unsafe conditions such as blasting.

"Establishment of a separation zone is a detailed process based on health-risk assessment and scientific data," the report says.

It also recommends adopting stringent health and safety measures to limit human exposure to the five chemical groups on 15 sites in the toxic area, deemed one of the worst in North America.

Coal tar, which can measure 15 to 50 centimetres deep at the coke ovens site, should be dug up and covered with soil, it says.

Workers in the area should be warned about the hazards. A detailed health and safety plan, similar to American occupational health and safety requirements, must be created.

Among the chemicals posing a risk are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds, heterocyclic compounds, polycholorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and metals.

The report says the Domtar storage tank, containing 14 to 1,110 times acceptable limits of nine different PAHs, should be removed and its contents disposed of. The area should then be covered and revegetated, it says. Several brooks in the area should be diverted away from heavily contaminated areas.

The report also says more fencing is needed surrounding the tar ponds and coke ovens site and access should be restricted to authorized personnel only.

The separation zones and interim measures "can be at least initiated, if not completed, prior to the receipt of data from future investigations," the report says.

The report points out there was "no documented evidence that represents a short-term risk to human health."

The sub-group that ordered the study will take it to the larger JAG for acceptance. It's expected another study will be needed to identify the parameters of the red zone.

JAG vice-chairwoman Slawna Lamond said the report didn't go far enough.

"I would expect the consultants to answer the (buffer zone) question and not define the questions ... and I see a lot of questions," she said. "Whose going to get the answers?"

Environment Canada official Marie Dober suggested the group give the report "a broad acceptance" so that the bureaucratic wheels can begin to turn to find the answers.

Janet Bryson, a provincial Public Works spokeswoman, said nothing will be done "without first knowing the effects and ... knowing what's there."

"We have to go based on facts and science. There has to be more assessments done," she said earlier Tuesday.
With Barry Dorey, staff reporter

Press Release Issued by NDP to
the House of Commons
regarding Frederick Street

Nightmare on Frederick Street

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