Wed., July 5, 2006 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

MLA to demand dust probe

SYDNEY - A dust-up over falling debris in Sydney is expected to rear its ugly head again today from the floor of the provincial legislature.

Cape Breton Nova MLA Gordie Gosse says he will demand the Environment Department investigate and lay charges if companies are kicking up too much dust while moving commodities like coal, petroleum coke, slag and other materials along Sydney’s waterfront.

Residents living in Whitney Pier and the greater Sydney area have long complained to Mr. Gosse and other local officials about breathing problems, damage to property and hefty cleaning bills ever since two multimillion-dollar cleanups began in earnest several years ago under the eyes of the provincial and federal governments at the Sydney Steel site and the tar ponds and nearby coke ovens site.

Air monitors regularly record airborne vapour and particulate matter and the Environment Department has also collected multiple dust samples inside residents’ refrigerators, swimming pools and tissue boxes to determine the types of airborne dust homeowners are dealing with, yet charges or penalties have rarely been imposed, he said.

"Enough is enough," the New Democrat MLA said. "We’ve had over 100 years of industrial pollution and it’s got to stop."

In 2004, when Mr. Gosse first called the matter to the legislature’s attention, he brought along a dirty rag presented to him by one Whitney Pier family who had found excessive black dust inside their home. "I was scolded for using props in the legislature and they wouldn’t pick it up because it may not be environmentally safe and I stood up and said if it’s not environmentally safe for the Pages, how would you like it in your homes?" he recalled of that day.

"Just this weekend, they had a payloader pushing a shack down the road from Sysco. The shack breaks and spills all over the place and guess what was in it — asbestos. They got two guys in suits wearing proper protective gear down later to clean up the mess they made. It never stops."

The dust issue was a topic of debate at Province House on Tuesday. Environment Minister Mark Parent said the department is taking the matter seriously and working to find a solution. "We are getting very close, I believe, to being able to solve the problem," he said. "There has been some progress made." Mr. Parent said he expects test results of soil samples taken last week to be ready by July 20.

Aside from Sydney Steel, where a massive demolition and burial is underway on its 180-hectare site, the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency is overseeing a huge dig at the coke ovens to remove toxic soil and rebuild a brook to stop contaminants from flowing into the tar ponds further downstream where another bigger chemical cleanup is planned.

Residents have spotted a small truck with a spray system at times on dirt roads by the coke ovens dig site but it’s not a routine sight.

There are fewer dust controls at nearby Sysco, where a road is being built and where slag is mined for provincial road construction, or over at its wharf, leased to Provincial Energy Ventures, which moves various commodities.

Emera, parent firm of Nova Scotia Power, lands 2.2 million tonnes of coal or petcoke annually at its dock adjacent to Sysco’s and has an elaborate system of "rain birds" that keeps water on top of its coal storage area, located metres from the nearest homes of Whitney Pier.

NSP spokeswoman Glennie Langille said the other players in the neighbourhood are studying the utility’s system of controls to possibly mirror them. She said the power company is also working with the Environment Department to solve dust complaints in a "timely manner." "We have a very good sense of what’s happening in any given time," she said. "We’re all aware of what’s going on and what the complaints are and I think putting in place a system to deal with concerns . . . is important."

Logistec Stevedoring was among the few firms in the area to be charged and fined, for causing dust over Whitney Pier when it overfilled a hopper at the Emera site in 2004.

A more extensive system of controls was later installed at the Emera site, including a "wind fence" to catch any dust or stone as coal is off-loaded from ships to a waiting train, as well as enclosures around conveyor belts. Two water trucks criss-cross the ground on-site, and chemical additives have been added to the spray to make the coal dust adhere better to the coal.


With David Jackson, provincial reporter