Firms: Cleanup won't hurt environment
By GREG MacVICAR
SYDNEY - A statement Tuesday by three environmental engineering firms that
the Sydney tar ponds cleanup won't hurt the local environment contrasted
with concerns about handling, moving and burning the toxic sludge.
The federal and provincial governments have proposed a 10-year,
$400-million plan to clean up the Sydney tar ponds, the toxic result of a
century of steelmaking in industrial Cape Breton.
"Construction practices identified in the report can successfully manage
all potential negative effects of the project," said Gregory Gillis,
project manager with AMEC Earth and Environmental, the lead firm in the
creation of the newly released environmental impact statement on the
But the area MLA, along with members of the Sierra Club, said there are
still worries about the methods to be used in cleaning up the tar ponds.
MLA Gordie Gosse (Cape Breton Nova) said after a technical briefing
Tuesday on the 3,000-page impact statement that he doesn't think his
constituents "are going to be happy with the incinerator."
Sierra Club member Bruno Marcocchio said residents preferred a process
known as soil washing to decontaminate the tar ponds sludge, rather than
The briefing on the impact statement, prepared by AMEC, Jacques Whitford
and ADI Ltd., was hosted by the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, which has also
released a 27-page summary of the larger document. It outlines how tar
ponds sludge contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons would be removed and shipped by rail to Victoria
Junction for incineration.
Shawn Duncan, AMEC's impact statement co-ordinator, said a "thermal
destruction incinerator," able to reach temperatures up to 1,200 C, would
be used. It would be calibrated to destroy 99.9999 per cent of the PCBs
and PAHs in the contaminated soil and would automatically shut down if
that level wasn't being met.
He said that of about 700,000 tonnes of contaminated sludge on the site,
only 120,000 tonnes of the most contaminated material would be dried,
moved and incinerated. The rest would be stabilized with hardening agents
such as cement powder and contained on site.
Given the necessary approvals, Mr. Duncan said, it would probably be 2007
before workers began building a temporary incinerator on the Victoria
Junction site and 2008 before it started burning. The incinerator would
operate for about three years and take another year to decommission.
Mr. Gillis said the impact statement identifies measures to safeguard the
health and safety of workers and residents, protect fish habitats and
address noise and transportation issues.
A joint review panel will now accept comments on the statement for 48
days. The Sydney Tar Ponds Agency will then have a chance to respond to
the comments. When the panel decides it has all the information it needs,
it will announce a series of public hearings, which are expected to last
about two weeks and then make its recommendations to government. Federal
Environment Minister Stephane Dion has asked the panel to report by June
"I'd encourage each and every resident to attend the public hearings," Mr.
Mr. Marcocchio said he is "very alarmed" about aspects of the impact
statement, saying that stockpiling contaminated soil intended for
incineration would be harmful to the health of residents and the
"There are still no details on the incinerator or environmental controls
on the incinerator," he said.
Frank Potter, acting CEO of the tar ponds agency, said the toxicity of the
tar ponds and claims of ill health caused by it are exaggerated.
"I think there's a deeply ingrained belief that this site is terribly
toxic," he said. "It's toxic - not terribly toxic."
Mr. Potter said doctors have told him that residents blame ill health on
the tar ponds when that's not where the problem lies.
"They have people who will not take action on their own lifestyles," he
said. "They have this fatalistic attitude."
Anyone with questions, comments or concerns about the content or adequacy
of the statement may write to: Joint Review Panel, 582 George St., Sydney,
N.S. B1P 6G9, phone (902) 577-5357, fax (902) 564-3378.
For a copy of the statement on compact disk, send an e-mail to
EIS@TarPondsCleanup.ca and provide your name and mailing address. To
download a copy, go to www.TarPondsCleanup.ca, click on the library tab
and look on the menu at left for "Environmental Assessments: Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS)."
Paper copies are on view at the Cape Breton University library, 1250
Sydney-Glace Bay Highway, Sydney, 563-1320; James McConnell Memorial
Library, 50 Falmouth St., Sydney, 562-3161; or the Sydney Tar Ponds
Agency, 1 Inglis St., Sydney, 567-1035.