Sunday, August 22, 2004Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

A Whitney Pier scene in February 2002. Some areas of the community have been blanketed by dust this summer.

Pier homes blanketed by coal-like dust


SYDNEY - Sooty dust has been landing on homes in the Whitney Pier area again, but this time the source is unclear.

Deputy Mayor Jim MacLeod, who lives on Mathilda Street, has complained four times about the dust to the provincial Environment Department. He said he's found dust on his house and has had calls about it from people who live on nearby Ferris Street.

"It's definitely coal dust," Mr. MacLeod, said. "It's fine and a black-greyish colour. I'd know it anywhere.

It's not the first time this has happened in Mr. MacLeod's neighbourhood, near the former Devco coal pier.

Last winter, provincial inspectors charged the pier's stevedoring company, hired by Emera to move coal and coke to Nova Scotia Power plants from cargo ships, after dozens of homes were coated with a black dust called petcoke, a byproduct of petroleum refining.

The incident occurred in February 2003 after a cargo ship unloaded the coal-like product, overfilling a hopper on the coal pier in the process.

The stevedoring company, Logistec, pleaded guilty and was fined $12,000. The firm was also required to provide outdoor cleaning supplies to affected residents.

On Thursday, when Mr. MacLeod and several residents contacted Logistec's Sydney offices about the new dust, the company blamed Provincial Energy Ventures, which loads coal onto ships and rail cars at the nearby Sydney Steel wharf.

Provincial Energy Ventures will spend $10 million upgrading the wharf over 10 years. Those upgrades have already included an automated dust control system and real-time dust monitors.

"To date, we've had no dust leaving our property, according to our monitors," Ernie Thrasher, president of petroleum operations, said from the company's head office outside Pittsburgh, Pa.

Mr. Thrasher said coal dust generally only travels 500 metres before falling to the ground. He said he doubts coal dust could travel 1.5 kilometres to the nearest home.

"We're following up on the complaints," said Environment regional manager Lawrence MacDonald. "We're meeting with the complainants and will take it from there."

Around the same time Mr. MacLeod first noticed dust at his house, the week of Aug. 9, the tar ponds agency was recording elevated levels of particulate matter in the air on Frederick Street, fairly close to Mr. MacLeod's neighbourhood.

The total suspended particulate count recorded Aug. 13 was 164 micrograms per square metre. The Nova Scotia objective, according to agency spokesman Parker Donham, is 120 micrograms per square metre.

The agency received a report from AMEC Ltd. on Thursday that concluded the dust in the air was most likely slag dust from a nearby road construction site.

Mr. MacLeod says he plans to continue pressing the Environment Department to find out what is causing the dust and act to stop it.