BYLINE Beverley Ware, Halifax Herald, April 23, 1999

Toxic ooze resurfaces near Sydney coke ovens

We shouldn't be here, angry resident says

Sydney - More toxic ooze is seeping out of the ground by Frederick Street homes bordering the Sydney coke ovens.

"It's the same thing we went through almost a year ago to the day; it's that same orange goo," resident Juanita McKenzie said Thursday.

Samples taken last year showed arsenic levels 18 times the acceptable limit, along with elevated levels of such cancer-causing compounds as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals and benzene. The pool was buried last fall as a stop-gap measure.

"Last year, I was terrified," Mrs. McKenzie said. "This year, I'm mad."

She said she expected government officials and the community to sit up and take notice when this first happened.

"I expected them to rally around, but here we are a year later repeating the same thing.

"What the hell are we going to do?"

The yellow-orange liquid is in Debbie Ouellette's backyard.

"We shouldn't be here," she said, reiterating her call to be moved at government expense.

Her three children can't play in their yard, and the family can't sit out to enjoy spring evenings, she said.

"How bad has it got to be before the Health Department comes in and tells you it's not safe?"

** An Environment Canada official who went to the site Wednesday afternoon could not be reached for comment Thursday.

A few months after the first rust-coloured liquid seeped to the surface, reeking black goo bubbled up. It contained extremely high levels of naphthalene as well as elevated levels of other toxins.

This most recent seepage is "really gooey looking," said Mrs. McKenzie's husband, Rickie. One spectator said it looks like baby diarrhea. It is in exactly the same spot as the pool found a year ago, but there is more of it.

The goo is on a bank sloping down from a fenced area of the coke ovens into a brook. Mrs. McKenzie said it is seeping into the brook, which is already discoloured and has an oily film.

A second fence is being built between the homes and brook, but Mrs. McKenzie said it is useless.

"It has one-foot (30-centimetre) gaps in it. A child was caught last week crawling under the fence to get a ball, and animals are drinking in the brook, so it's still open."

Since the first toxic pool formed, Mrs. McKenzie has joined the Joint Action Group, which is charged with cleaning up the tar ponds and coke ovens. She said she thought she'd be able to accomplish more from the inside.

"But absolutely nothing has happened. It's like beating my head against a brick wall all year. We're still not being taken seriously. What are we supposed to do?"

She said the cleanup process is "bogged down in bureaucracy and red tape. There are too many people involved in this process."

She plans to unleash her anger at JAG's regular meeting on Wednesday.

"I've been pretty quiet up till now, but no more. I can't sit back and take this anymore."

ILLUSTATIONBeverley Ware Frederick Street resident Rickie McKenzie surveys the latest toxic goo oozing near his home.

Cancer review comes full circle

Cape Breton Post, April 23, 1999 Editorial: "OUR VIEW"
The issue: Another cancer report is in.

We suggest: We've been here before.

Viewed through the peculiarly tinted glass of environmental health politics in the Sydney area, the latest diagnosis from Cancer Care Nova Scotia is something of a setback. It suggests that we may not be dying like flies from the stew of our own industrial poisons after all.

Well, darn it all. We seemed to be making progress on this front last fall when two epidemiological studies were made public which seemed to some to imply, or at least to hint at the possibility, that high cancer incidence and mortality in the Sydney area could be tied to the legacy of dirty industry in the old steel city.

The authors of those studies were reluctant to endorse such claims. But one study in particular, by Dalhousie University epidemiologist Dr. Judy Guernsey, appeared to supply one essential piece of evidence in that direction by suggesting the disease incidence was higher in Sydney proper than in Cape Breton County as a whole. The tighter the cancer clusters can be grouped around our infamous , the more incriminating the numbers are for this particular environmental suspect.

Concerned about the findings of these studies, Nova Scotia's new anti-cancer czar, Dr. Andrew Padmos, engaged three other epidemiologists to review the evidence. Among other conclusions unveiled this week, this panel found no ``consistent or compelling pattern'' that would show cancer is more rampant in Sydney than in the county as a whole.

In short, Padmos cautions that, on available evidence, cancer cannot be added to the list of other good reasons that the Sydney area's environmental issues ought to be dealt with. He goes on to suggest that factors such as population lifestyle (smoking, high-fat diet, low physical activity) must be tackled, not only because of cancer but because of other serious community health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. In addition, Cancer Care Nova Scotia is proposing such measures as improved screening programs for the early detection of cancer.

And so, more than a decade later, we've come roughly full circle to the 1987 provincial health department study -- derisively known as the ``broccoli study'' -- which concluded that Cape Breton County residents are sicker than they need to be because they smoke too much, eat too much fried food, and are fat and lazy besides. That study marked a point of departure for the contrary perception in the community that the lifestyle issue is a red herring to divert attention from the politically scary problem of environmental health hazards.

Despite the currency of the conspiracy view now, it's hard to tell how deeply it is held. A predictable clamour has erupted over construction of a supermarket addition atop contaminated soil a stone's throw from the tar ponds, but only if grocery shoppers vote with their feet to avoid the renovated Sobeys store will there be much evidence that such environmental health alarms are taken seriously enough to alter public behaviour.

Are Sydneyites en masse, inured to industrial grime, simply too blase about the whole environmental health business, or are they more sensible than the alarmists?

There is a dissident network of experts, well credentialled in their own right, who maintain that medical establishment people like Padmos see only what they are professionally conditioned by Big Medicine to see. Says Samuel Epstein, University of Illinois professor of occupational and environmental medicine: ``The cancer epidemic is a reflection of uncontrolled, runaway industrial technologies.'' So there.

But unless the population of Cape Breton County is prepared to reject mainstream expertise (and close the new cancer treatment centre while we're at it, in favour of herbs and shark cartilage), it would be wise to heed the best advice from our public health care system. There are things we can do that are certain to reduce the toll of deadly disease in Cape Breton County. For the moment at least, cleaning up Muggah Creek is not on that list, and doesn't need to be.

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