Friday, April 8, 2005 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Tar ponds cleanup: Informed media vital


In Jim Meek's April 2 column, "Tar ponds: Haste makes waste," he claims that he has come up to speed on the tar ponds cleanup. Unfortunately, he seems to have missed most of the issues and fails to see the repetition of the patterns that led to two failed previous attempts.

Meek cheered on the public outrage that killed the burial plan in 1996. Rolling together the two failed plans spun by the Tar Ponds Agency seems to have short-circuited his analysis of either the technical merits or the politics driving the current proposal.

The exclusion of the public and media from the liaison process is an outrage that should indicate to an informed member of the media that the current proposal is indefensible.

The Tar Ponds Agency will only discuss the plan with carefully selected supporters. Excluding critics, media and the public from any interaction must surely raise questions about the ethics and commitment to democratic principles of the proponents.

The proposal excludes any protection for residents during the remediation or plans to clean up properties that exceed even the "site specific" standards that have replaced CCME guidelines for soil contamination in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

How could a legitimate proposal leave residents as close as 150 metres to the site when it is disturbed?

Would a legitimate plan leave families in homes whose lead and arsenic levels are more than 10 times higher than the health-based standards in other communities?

All are in agreement that the cleanup should get underway as soon as possible. It is unfortunate that Meek has accepted Parker Donham's unsubstantiated claim that a panel review will take much longer. Both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and federal Environment Minister Stéphane Dion have made it very clear that both a panel and a comprehensive study take about the same length of time.

The difference is that the panel is composed of independent experts who conduct public hearings to provide an opportunity to cross-examine the proponents.

The plan to incinerate was not examined in the Joint Action Group technology demonstration.

The two Canadian PCB incinerators at Swan Hills, Alta., and St. Ambroise, Que., have both caused widespread contamination of the surrounding communities. Using a "mobile" incinerator (that Donham has admitted in this newspaper will have less stringent standards) will be a disaster to residents of the CBRM.

Both the solidification plan for the sludge and the bioremediation proposed for the coke ovens failed the JAG technical demonstration.

The solidification in the pond in a bottomless box is sure to fail. The bench-scale test for solidification failed because the methane generated by the sludge cracked the concrete.

The bioremediation failed to reduce either the PCB or PAH content.

Meek missing these facts indicates he is not yet up to speed.

The soil-washing process that did well in the tech demo, and was selected first by CBRM residents, has been ignored. The company offering this choice has given firm cost guarantees that the waste can be destroyed completely for the $400 million on the table.

In an Oct. 14, 2004, letter to the company that successfully demonstrated the viability of soil-washing, Ron Russell said, "At no time did governments indicate they would be bound by the results of the JAG workbook sessions or JAG recommendations." It seems the 900 public meetings were a meaningless stalling tactic.

The proponent has ignored all the wishes of residents, the JAG recommendations and technical reviews.

The patterns of political decision-making unsubstantiated by the evidence at hand are repeating themselves yet again. A full panel can come to a coherent, proven plan to remediate Canada's worst site once and for all.

It is essential to have informed media that recognize this plan for what it is: a repeat of political expediency over competent action or any concern for human health.

Bruno Marcocchio is the Atlantic conservation campaign director, Sierra Club of Canada.