Friday, August 29, 2003 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

No corners cut at site, engineer says
Man in charge at Sydney Steel site defends method of taking samples

By Matt Hunt Gardner

Sydney - The company testing for chemicals at the former Sydney Steel site insists it is doing the work properly.

"All samples collected from each borehole have been stored in core boxes and remain on the site and are available for any professional to inspect," project engineer Bradley McRoberts of MGI Ltd. wrote Sysco and Ernst & Young, which is managing the former steel plant's finances.

Mr. McRoberts was responding to allegations that MGI cut corners by filling samples with surface soil instead of soil from various depths.

MGI was hired to do an environmental assessment of Sysco's "high dump" - a hill of waste from steelmaking - and slag heap.

One of the site's three workers said last week that he quit because testing was not being done properly. He alleged some samples that were to be removed from the dump at various depths were simply filled with surface soil.

"Because soil is forced up . . . as the drill is hammered down into the ground . . . surface soil would look different to the eye. Any experienced technician could tell the difference," said Andy Shand, manager of Logan Geotech, the Stewiacke company hired by MGI to drill for samples.

But Jim Fraser, president of MGI, pointed out there is no way to determine the depth of a sample once it has been taken. Site workers write the depth of the samples in markers on the core box.

Mr. Shand's drillers were to collect samples up to 44 metres below the surface of the slag heap, which sits like a small mountain on the banks of the toxic tar ponds.

But the worker who quit said the samples mostly contain surface soil taken from depths of less than seven metres.

"I can't imagine that," said Mr. Shand. "We took hundreds of samples. Some holes were over (30 metres) some were as short as (18 metres)."

MGI said the machines took samples every 60 centimetres, and only eight of the 28 boreholes broke the 25-metre mark, so most of the samples would be from shallower depths.

"There was a representative from MGI on site, supervising and telling the drillers where and when to bag the samples," said Mr. Shand.

"There were also regular inspections by Ernst & Young," he said.

Mr. Shand would not comment on the worker's resignation.

In his letter, Mr. McRoberts acknowledged 28 boreholes in 51 days is longer than typical drilling rates. But he said the extra time was within MGI's budget estimates.

Mr. Shand said drilling was slowed because of large amounts of buried steel, discarded junk, and slag from the blast furnace. Drilling ended July 31.

MGI was the lowest of six bidders on the $277,477 contract to do one of three Phase 2 environmental tests at the Sysco site.

Sysco will spend a total of about $500,000 on the tests.