Thursday, April 27, 2006 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Getting the scoop on a toxic site


SYDNEY - There was a funky smell around the site of the old steel plant Wednesday as an excavator pulled up sediment samples from a cooling pond for 11 firms interested in cleaning it up.

"It's pretty goopy at the bottom," Sydney Tar Ponds Agency spokesman Parker Donham said of the sludge that started collecting in 1912 when the 122-metre-wide pond was formed.

"It's one of the things we have to clean up. In fact, on hot summer days the oil on the bottom comes up to the surface and a few summers ago we had some cormorants fouled in it. So every summer since then we've had to have an oil-skimmer truck here removing the oil. That's quite expensive."

Mr. Donham said 11 firms picked up tender documents on the pond cleanup when they became available April 24. Each company will receive sludge samples from the agency to help them determine a cleanup method.

"Primarily the type of treatment that's been selected for the cooling pond is something called in situ stabilization and solidification," said Carol Cunningham, an engineer and contract manager with the agency. "They come up with a design of additives to put into the pond."

Ms. Cunningham said cleanup would include dismantling a pumphouse, pipes and cribwork, hardening and "chemically altering" the sludge using an additive such as cement powder, and covering the site with soil and sod.

"In the end that will be hard material so it will have some strength and ... water will not pass through it," she said. "Chemically what's happening is we're going to take any contaminants of concern ... and we're going to chemically fix them so that they're not mobile anymore."

The pond cleanup is unique in that bidding companies must have more than 50 per cent aboriginal ownership. Bids must be in by June 6.

Ms. Cunningham said she expects the cleanup to start in July and wrap up in November or December.

The cooling pond is next to the tar ponds and was used to cool and recycle the water used in making steel. As a result, the sludge, which Ms. Cunningham estimates to be between two and three metres deep, contains hydrocarbons and heavy metals.

A panel reviewing plans to clean up the tar ponds begins three weeks of public hearings Saturday.