Wednesday, January 4, 2006 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Firms: Cleanup won't hurt environment


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 cleanup.

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 incineration.

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 30.

"I'd encourage each and every resident to attend the public hearings," Mr. Gosse said.

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 environment. "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 and provide your name and mailing address. To download a copy, go to, 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.