Saturday, July 22, 2006 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Out of sight, out of mind
Government will likely choose to cap tar ponds, resident fears


SYDNEY - A Whitney Pier resident says both the federal and provincial governments will always choose the cheapest cleanup alternative for the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens site, and as a result Sydney will always have to live with the effects.

"I think what government would like this community to believe is out of sight, out of mind. If you cover it over, grass it, people will say how nice it looks, but it's still there. The damn contaminants will still be underneath," Eric Brophy, a former member of the advisory Joint Action Group, said from his home.

He has been reading the 167-page report issued by the three-member panel appointed to review the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency's plans for cleaning up the former steel plant sites. The document is the result of 17 days of public hearings held in Sydney earlier this spring, conducted by panel members Lesley Griffith, William Charles and Dr. Louis LaPierre.

In the document, issued July 13, the panel says it is not convinced that stabilizing the PCBs and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, then capping the site "is proven for use in the tar ponds context" and that it should be studied more. "It has to be," Mr. Brophy said when asked if that particular recommendation should be followed.

There are other technologies available that "haven't been given a full evaluation" by the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, he said.

He is worried that the contaminants in the tar ponds sludge -- the legacy of a century of steelmaking -- will not work with the proposed solidification and stabilization plan. "There is no sense in spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a process that isn't going to work," he said.

In a release issued Tuesday, the Sierra Club said it was profoundly disappointed that the panel was prepared to allow the proposal to proceed to its next phase, but added the approval was conditional that the recommendations be met. "If those conditions are not met, then the panel report cannot be used to justify proceeding," Dan McMullin, chairman of the Cape Breton chapter of the Sierra Club said in the release.

Frank Potter, CEO of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency said Wednesday his agency is pleased that the report says that both solidification and encapsulation "are viable as long as the 55 recommendations are considered." But he said it is unfair to say the government has chosen the cheapest option for cleanup, rejecting an earlier $120-million plan to simply cap the entire site. "The government has clearly taken a middle-of-the-road approach," he said of the plan that includes spending $400 million on a combination of treatments including removal, destruction and some containment of contaminants as well as elaborate monitoring systems, groundwater control and diversion of brooks.

"There will never be consensus on how to clean up the tar ponds. After 10 years of debate -- almost 1,000 public meetings -- that's the one thing everyone can agree on," Mr. Potter said.

The report is available at the provincial Environment Department website, and a summary is available at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website at