Tar ponds cleanup: public scrutiny vital |
By Bruno Marcocchio
THE HIGH readings of toluene and xylene that have been documented at various
locations around Sydney this summer are all a mistake, according to Walter van
Veen, consultant to the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency (Sept. 20 story). Van Veen
would have us believe that a faulty canister in one sensor has resulted in
repeated high readings at various sensors around Sydney.
As preposterous as this is, we will apparently have to take his word for it. The
data upon which his assertion is based are not available to the public or
media. There is something very rotten in the state of Denmark.
Residents in Whitney Pier and the rest of Sydney have been complaining about
strong coal tar smells for weeks now, ever since work on the Domtar tank began.
The smells continue, dependent on wind direction, even after the Tar Ponds
Agency's assertions that it was all a big mistake. We obviously have a much
bigger problem than the coal tars in our air. The smell emanating from the
agency poses an even bigger risk to our future health than the high toluene and
The agency has usurped all regulatory authority and is now in control of what
little remains of the public process surrounding the cleanup of Canada's worst
hazardous waste site. It is the agency, not the federal or provincial
departments of health or environment, which does the monitoring and reporting
of any problems. Public involvement will be limited to representatives of
community organizations that will be selected by the agency to advise, without
public or media scrutiny, on decisions made behind closed doors. There seems to
be a pattern here! The agency is in control of both information and community
involvement without public or media scrutiny.
This is a far cry from then federal environment minister Sergio Marchi's 1996
promise of an open, transparent process that would involve the public, and
avoid the failures that backroom decisions had led to in previous remediation
attempts. We now have the foxes in control of both the media and the public in
our toxic henhouse.
It is clear that nonsensical spin, not protection of our health, will be what
drives cleanup attempts. This will not do. It is time for the agency to put
reasonable measures in place to protect human health, including a voluntary
buffer zone of 500 metres surrounding the site. Whenever these volatile
compounds are disturbed, there will continue to be fugitive emissions.
Continued denial of impacts outside the fence will lead to endless conflict and
The admission that people are impacted and require protection is a necessary
first step if the mistakes of the past are to be avoided. Implementing
democratic scrutiny of government decisions by the public and media must also
happen if we want good decisions.
Health issues are too important for the spin doctors. Real medical experts, a
transparent and democratic process are long overdue.
Bruno Marcocchio is a spokesman for the Sierra Club of Canada.