Monday, February 28, 2005 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

CBU students slag tar ponds plan
Representative says proposed incineration site too close


SYDNEY - Students at Cape Breton University are calling on islanders to oppose plans to burn contaminated material from the tar ponds and coke ovens at Victoria Junction.

"We'll never be able to attract students here," said Jamie Crane, president of the students' union.

"Our students' health will be impacted so this is important," she said. "They want to plunk it down in the middle of our community and it's just not acceptable."

The students' council voted unanimously to oppose burning contaminated sludge less than 2 1/2 kilometres from the university. The tar ponds and coke ovens sites are the result of 100 years of steelmaking in Sydney.

There are 700,000 tonnes of contaminated sludge containing cancer-related chemicals like PCBs, as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in the tar ponds, which cover more than 31 hectares of Sydney's downtown core.

The 72-hectare coke ovens site contains 300,000 tonnes of contaminated sludge.

A plan developed by the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency and its consultants will result in the worst of the material being burned in a mobile incinerator to be set up in Victoria Junction. The rest of the site will be treated and capped.

The plan has proved controversial, drawing criticism from community groups, the Sierra Club of Canada and environmentalist David Suzuki, who either prefer other methods or simply oppose incineration.

But officials say the public hasn't been giving them much feedback during a 30-day public review of the incineration proposal that's now underway.

"I'm not going to say the silence is deafening, but not a lot of the community is showing up at public meetings about it," said Sydney Tar Ponds Agency spokesman Parker Donham.

Federal officials who are collecting public opinion couldn't be reached for comment.

"We haven't heard anything from the (students) union," said Mr. Donham. He said had the union contacted him he would have set up a presentation for the students' council before it made its decision.

"Incineration makes many people nervous, but it is the most comprehensive method of destroying PCBs in the world," said Mr. Donham.

The 30-day review period, which ends March 9, isn't meant for commenting on the cleanup method but rather to help Ottawa choose a type of environmental assessment.

No matter which assessment is chosen - full-panel review or public consultation - people will be able to comment on the cleanup method.

A list of ways to submit comments is available at