Monday, January 24, 2005 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

CP file
David Suzuki criticized the latest tar ponds cleanup plan in an address at the Membertou Convention Centre in Sydney on Saturday.

Suzuki slams latest
plan for tar ponds

Environmentalist says politics behind latest scheme to clean up toxic mess


SYDNEY - The latest plan to bury and burn the contaminants in the Sydney tar ponds is "the dumbest idea," environmentalist David Suzuki says.

The 61-year-old Vancouver educator, who spoke to a standing room only crowd at the Membertou Convention Centre in Sydney on Saturday night, said the recommendation is politically motivated.

"It seems that the politicians are trying to mortgage (the problem) for future generations," he said Sunday in a telephone interview from a Sydney hotel.

"These politicians won't be around in 20 or 30 years and this (plan) is just giving the appearance that they are doing something. It's just ludicrous."

The government intends to burn the 700,000 tonnes of toxic sludge in the 81-hectare tar ponds and then seal whatever is left in concrete.

The sludge contains numerous substances that are believed to be possible causes of cancer, including heavy metals, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).

Mr. Suzuki's recommended solution is a technology that breaks down the PCBs and renders them harmless.

"It seems to me that these decisions are made for political expediency and don't have anything to do with the profound ecological problem that exists here," he said.

Mr. Suzuki said he visited the site in the late 1970s and is "astounded that nothing has been done."

The tar ponds and the nearby coke ovens site are the remains of 100 years of steelmaking in Sydney.

The government website for the tar ponds cleanup project says the planned method "takes the middle ground" and will remove, burn and bury the contaminants over 10 years at a cost of $256 million.

Mr. Suzuki's Saturday night speech didn't directly address the tar ponds question. Instead, he spoke about the connectivity of all things on Earth and how we can be more responsible.

The environmentalist is the author of 30 books and is host of the award-winning television show The Nature of Things.

He arrived in wintry Cape Breton after a trip to Cuba, where he received word just before he left that Cuban President Fidel Castro wished to meet with him. Mr. Suzuki reluctantly declined as he was committed to speak in Sydney - which was experiencing its third snowstorm in seven days.

"And I've been freezing my ass off since I got here," he said.