Friday, January 7, 2005 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Tar ponds waste to be burned
'Our worst fears' confirmed, Sierra Club says of N.S.'s plans

By SUSAN BRADLEY / Staff Reporter

Toxic waste at Sydney's tar ponds and coke ovens site will be incinerated at a yet undetermined site, says a description of the $400-million cleanup project released Wednesday.

The description was contained in a call for financial engineering audit proposals.

"The incinerator will be used as a temporary incinerator, it will roll to the site on two to five flatbed trailers and will be set up. The incinerator and ancillary facilities will occupy a land area of approximately two to five hectares," the report said.

The Transportation and Public Works Department issued the call for proposals, or "expressions of interest."

Potential sites are expected to be identified "very soon," Parker Donham, spokesman for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said Thursday.

"We are only considering sites within the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. It is not going to be on the (cleanup) site."

AMEC Earth and Environmental Ltd., which is preparing a 200-page technical description of the cleanup work, also has the task of choosing the site.

That report, due in December, was bumped back until mid-January.

The Sierra Club of Canada fiercely opposes incinerating the contaminated waste from the tar ponds and coke ovens, the result of 100 years of steelmaking under private and public-sector ownership.

The government agency and environmental group have long waged a bitter public battle over how best to deal with Canada's worst toxic waste site.

"We are extremely disappointed (in the document). It confirms our worst fears. Incinerating dangerous PCBs would be devastating to CBRM," said Bruno Marcocchio, who represents the Sierra Club's Cape Breton chapter.

The fight is far from over.

The Sierra Club, which favours a soil-washing process versus the "burn and bury" solution to the toxic waste, is pressing Ottawa to take a more active role in the cleanup.

"The Martin government has given millions of dollars in funding to the creation of innovative environmental technology. We want to see some of that technology used for a safer, long-term solution," Mr. Marcocchio said.

Incineration will cause fewer air quality problems than excavating the contaminated soil, Mr. Donham said.

"Every expert we have talked to has said a properly designed, properly operated PCB incinerator does not pose a risk. But we are going to have upset people no matter where we put this."

Even if one of the sites was in his own neighbourhood - Boularderie Island - he would not be upset. "I would be extremely comfortable with that."

The public will have a chance to comment on any recommended incineration sites during a one-month review period.

There will also be public input during an environmental assessment of AMEC's technical definition - whether it be a government-led comprehensive review or a full-panel review led by a government-appointed expert. That could take two years or more.

Meanwhile, preliminary cleanup work could begin as early as this spring, on projects such as the re-routing of Coke Ovens Brook.

He would not comment on what types of location restrictions are involved in burning the waste, or what is considered to be the maximum distance it can be transported.

But because the incineration process is considered to be temporary, it does not face the same regulations regarding location as a permanent facility.

"It is certainly less restrictive for a portable, temporary incinerator. The reason is one of practicality. It makes sense to put (a permanent facility) in some remote place where it will never trouble any existing human infrastructure," Mr. Donham said.

"But (this is) contaminated waste in a particular spot, and it will only be used for a limited period of time. We're talking about something that is only going to operate for three years, and we have a huge amount of material - 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes. That's a lot of material to move around. For those practical reasons, the restrictions are less stringent."

There are complex factors involved in deciding where incineration will take place, Mr. Donham said.

"You want it to be a long way from any dense residential neighbourhood. On the other hand, if you go out in the woods, you are cutting down trees (and) putting an industrial operation in it."

Two transportation choices include moving waste in sealed containers by transfer trucks or by rail cars.

Mr. Marcocchio speculated that Cape Breton Development Corp.'s coal wash plant, on the highway between Sydney and Glace Bay, would be a likely incineration site if rail is chosen as a transportation option.