Burning, burying options for tar ponds

CBC - Nova Scotia
WebPosted May 11 2004 04:44 PM EDT

SYDNEY - The official announcement on the cleanup of the notorious tar ponds is coming Wednesday, with incineration and burial as the preferred ways to deal with the toxic sludge.

Decades of steel making have left a mark on Sydney. The tar ponds and coke ovens site has high levels of PCBs and other contaminants, which many residents blame for their health problems and property losses.

The federal and provincial governments will contribute $400 million for cleaning up the site, with Ottawa paying $280 million of that.

The preferred solution is to first remove the most toxic materials, then cover the rest with a layer of plastic and clay. The most dangerous material would be incinerated onsite or close by.

Anne Ross and other residents don't want that to happen. "People here will suffer immensely. We have the highest cancer rate. Any more emissions that's done on that site definitely has to have an environmental review," she says.

Covering the tar ponds over has already been rejected by the community. An attempt in the early 1990s to burn the sludge with a $50-million incinerator was also abandoned because it couldn't burn the PCBs.

There may be other options on the table. Whatever is finally chosen will have to face an environmental review before any work starts. "We don't want any impact on human health and the environment," says Mark Eyking, the Liberal MP for the area.

The cleanup project is expected to inject more than $1 million into the local economy. The tar ponds have given Sydney a negative image for years now, and people hope that's going to change. "Let's get it done, let's get it over with, let's stop the negativism and do it," says Sandy Reynolds, with the Sydney Development Association.

Even with the funding in place and a cleanup method chosen it could be years years before the work gets underway. That will depend on how intense and time-consuming the environmental review proves to be.