Wednesday, June 9, 2004 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

John Morgan, mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality, wants some answers about a hushed-up release of naphthalene from cleanup operations at the old tar ponds site.

Secrecy over gas leak disturbing - Morgan
Tar ponds agency waited three days to notify public of naphthalene problem


SYDNEY - Mayor John Morgan expressed anger Tuesday that a provincial agency took three days to tell the public that a hazardous gas had leaked from the Domtar tank cleanup site.

In fact, the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency didn't even let him know what had happened, said the mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

"I find this whole situation disturbing," Mr. Morgan said. "A dangerous gas was leaking into the municipality, and they didn't even call the mayor."

The agency received test results Friday from an air monitoring station reporting an elevated level of naphthalene in the air in Sydney on or before May 27.

The agency didn't inform the public of the leak until Monday.

"It's one of the problems we've had, the provincial and federal governments not disclosing information about what's been going on at the cleanup site with the public and my office," Mr. Morgan said by cellphone en route to Halifax.

Naphthalene is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon that smells like mothballs when released into the air. The United States Environmental Protection Agency says naphthalene can cause hemolytic anemia, cataracts, jaundice, nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain.

About a dozen residents who said they experienced recent nausea and headaches in recent days tried to deliver letters to Mr. Morgan, but he had already left Sydney.

He said he would read faxed copies of the letters when he got to Halifax and that he would write to the federal and provincial governments about the leak.

Cape Breton Nova MLA Gordie Gosse said the problem has been going on longer than a few days.

"For weeks there has been a strong odour coming from the site, and people in the community have been becoming more and more concerned," Mr. Gosse said in a news release.

"Now we learn we've been breathing in unacceptably high levels of a dangerous chemical. As soon as the tar ponds agency had any suspicion there was a risk, keeping the community informed should have been their No. 1 priority."

Valerie Bellefontaine of the provincial Environment Department said an officer has been sent to the site to investigate, and the agency's Parker Donham said he would post air-monitoring data, dating back to 2002, on the agency's website ( as early as Tuesday night.

Test results that the agency gave to the media on Tuesday show naphthalene was the only chemical, of about 40 measured, that registered higher than standards used in Sydney. These are outlined in a provincial Interim Separation Zone report published in 2000.

A sample collected May 27 at Curry's Lane and analysed by AMEC Earth and Environmental showed levels of naphthalene of 12.3 micrograms per square metre of air. The Sydney standard is three micrograms per square metre.

But the other five air-monitoring stations in Sydney measured levels of naphthalene well below the Sydney standard, according to the test results.

Samples from the air-monitoring stations are taken every six days or 12 days, depending on what work is being done by cleanup crews, and it takes another five to six days for the results to get back to the agency.

Clean Harbours Canada Ltd. of Sarnia, Ont., has the $3.6-million contract to clean up the Domtar tank, which contains toxins similar to those of the tar ponds.

The firm stopped its work Monday and had not resumed it Tuesday.

Mr. Donham said gummed-up charcoal filters or a faulty exhaust fan in the building surrounding the tank are suspected to have allowed the leak to occur.