Thursday, May 13, 2004 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

TERA CAMUS / Cape Breton Bureau
Reporters ask questions of the politicians involved in the $400-million solution for the Sydney tar ponds, including Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan, Premier John Hamm, federal Public Works Minister Stephen Owen, Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking and federal Environment Minister David Anderson.


Here is a chronology of major developments in the tar ponds cleanup story.

September 1996: Sydney Tar Ponds Inc., a Crown corporation, is given control of the cleanup project, which includes a $52-million incineration plan that never went ahead.

November 1996: Joint Action Group is formed to study the Sydney area's high cancer rates.

January 1997: Federal Environment Minister Sergio Marchi announces $1.6 million in funding from the three levels of government for the tar ponds cleanup.

May 1999: Three levels of government announce a $62-million, three-year scheme to combat Sydney's toxic waste mess.

February 2000: Four government contracts, worth about $12 million, are awarded to study Sydney's toxic sites.

May 2001: Ottawa announces plans to test residents near the tar ponds for health problems potentially linked to the contaminated sites.

August 2001: A $10-million project is announced to close and cap the old Sydney garbage dump, seen as a key step in cleaning the tar ponds.

February 2003: Federal Finance Minister John Manley says funding for the tar ponds cleanup has been earmarked, but he won't say how much.

May 2004: Cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Paul Martin's government unveil a $400-million plan to finally clean up the tar ponds. The announcement comes shortly before an expected federal election call.

Burning, burial plan for tar ponds
$400m deal unclear if waste to be incinerated on-site or off

By TERA CAMUS / Cape Breton Bureau

SYDNEY - The worst of Sydney's toxic waste will be burned and the rest buried as part of a 10-year, $400-million cleanup deal signed Wednesday.

Federal Public Works Minister Stephen Owen told about 400 invited guests at a news conference that the project still needs to be defined but Ottawa will spend $280 million while the province kicks in $120 million.

The project, to be submitted this fall for environmental screening, is expected to employ 300 people for 10 years, starting in 2006 at the earliest.

"We'll use the best technology possible to remediate and clean up this site," Mr. Owen promised.

"Incineration - if it's to take place - of the most toxic materials and chemicals . . . will take place off-site."

Premier John Hamm said all the technologies being considered have proven effective at other toxic waste sites in North America and abroad.

Sydney's two toxic tar ponds, covering 32 hectares in the downtown core, and the nearby 72-hectare coke ovens site are the result of 100 years of steelmaking under private- and public-sector ownership.

The chemicals that remain are a mixed brew of heavy metals like lead and arsenic and the tar ponds' 700,000 tonnes of sludge that contain cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. There's 300,000 tonnes of toxic waste at the coke ovens.

"We're not about to reinvent the wheel," Mr. Hamm said.

"While the timeline requires a certain amount of preparation, including a proper environmental look at the situation, all of this is based on things that have been done successfully and safely elsewhere."

After Mr. Owen and Mr. Hamm signed the deal, those at the Victoria Park military base stood to applaud. But others left with more questions than answers.

Frank Potter, an official with the province, had told reporters during a closed-door technical briefing that an on-site mobile incinerator would be used to burn about 100,000 tonnes of hazardous waste, including 3.8 tonnes of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

But when Mr. Owen was challenged about the discrepancy, he insisted the location for the incineration had yet to be determined.

"We're not talking about doing it in some other part of the country but we're not talking about doing it on-site either."

The plans for the cleanup are to:

Build a dam to stop the tar ponds from flowing into Sydney Harbour.

Redirect the coke ovens brook now flowing into the tar ponds so that it empties into the harbour.

Dig up 45,000 tonnes of sludge in the tar ponds that contain 3.8 tonnes of PCBs to be burned.

Excavate but leave the rest of the tar ponds sludge, treating it with microbes or other methods, then covering it with an engineered landfill cap and topping it with walking trails or a sports field.

Dig up sludge in the coke ovens brook for burning.

Dig up a 25,000-tonne tar cell buried at the coke ovens site for burning.

Reroute the water main that goes under the coke ovens site and delivers water to the Whitney Pier area.

Dig up the cooling pond goo for burning.

Use bioremediation - like bugs - to clean the top layers of the coke ovens, but leave all toxic material found below that has seeped into the fractured bedrock.

Build a treatment plant to handle all the toxic run-off.

Build an 18-hole golf course or business park on top of the coke ovens.

Reaction to the plans was mixed.

Sierra Club local president Bruno Marcocchio challenged Environment Minister David Anderson to be mindful of people's health, urging him to relocate those who live within 300 metres of either site.

Once digging begins, toxic gases are expected to be released.

"The news today is solid progress toward what we all care about, a solution to the health and environmental nightmare known as the tar ponds," Mr. Marcocchio said.

"The long job ahead is to ensure that the environment and human health are protected."

Mr. Anderson said government will do its best.

"If you have cancer, not everybody will be able to restore themselves to youthful vigour the next day," he said.

"The point is . . . we have to choose technologies, and (make sure) the downsides of technologies, which always will be there, . . . don't outweigh benefits or don't create problems."

Sydney has one of the highest rates of cancer in Canada.

Dan Fraser, chairman of the defunct Joint Action Group, which offered 10 cleanup solutions to government, praised the news. But Mayor John Morgan worried that the lack of detail and timelines suggests the news was more about election promises.

"There was vagueness on where to destroy it, vagueness in JAG's recommendation, vagueness in the announcement today, and I have a real concern that those questions will only be answered after another community liaison committee is established, the very same process we went through for seven years.

"The federal and provincial government used the JAG process seven years in order to justify not cleaning up the site."