Wanted: Real cleanup, not a coverup for tar ponds
By Bruno Marcocchio
Several disturbing facts have emerged from the minutes of the closed-door citizens liaison committee (CLC) meetings for the remediation of the Sydney tar ponds.
This attempt at remediation was supposed to overcome the mistakes that led to the failures of the last two remediation attempts. A real cleanup of the community would create jobs and a healthier community, but the decisions currently being made are only expensive attempts to cover up the problem.
The community requested, and the Environmental Assessment Review Panel directed, that only proven technologies be chosen and the decisions be transparent.
The solution proposed was intended to solidify the waste and stabilize the contaminants. The current plan will not solidify the waste but create what the Cement Association of Canada calls a controlled low strength material, or a "highly flowable material."
The 50-pounds-per-square- inch target for the sludge that is now being contemplated is like a garden soil, not a solid, and even more worrisome, attempts to date have failed to meet even this inadequate target.
And, as for stabilization, even the panel expressed concerns that the addition of cement would create a highly alkaline environment that would destabilize contaminants like PCBs, phenols and some PAHs. It is difficult to see how this plan can be considered "proven" technology to solidify and stabilize the contaminants.
Rather than being transparent, closed-door liaison meetings by design, exclude both the public and media from deliberations. This, despite the following statement made by the panel: "The panel believes that constructive discussion during the hearings shows that an effective and credible community liaison group must represent the full range of community voices and affected interests."
Repeated requests from the Sierra Club of Canada to participate on the liaison committee have been rejected. By excluding community critics and the media, the government agency is ignoring yet another panel recommendation. Any accountability is absent.
The agency has admitted that the current cleanup plan is machine-intensive and few jobs will be created. This is a cruel blow to a community that was promised that local benefits, jobs in particular, were to be of primary concern during the remediation.
The project is now already at least a year behind schedule and the Tar Ponds Agency conducting the cleanup has recently announced another year of delay due to an engineering failure in the design of the watercourse to bypass the tar ponds.
Despite all the studies that the agency claims to have done, this is a clear indication of their failure to come up with a workable plan.
If this project does not become transparent to stakeholders and media, $400 million will be squandered in another technically inept, unaccountable plan that will accomplish little besides wasting money. The current plan will neither stabilize nor solidify the toxic waste. So, what can be done?
Dr. Tim Lambert from the University of Calgary recently released results of soil sampling taken in Sydney. He showed that the contamination extends for three kilometres from the site. The SENES report prepared for Health Canada, obtained recently by a citizen using a federal Access to Information request, not only confirms Lambertís work, it goes further and describes the soil contamination as a virtual fingerprint for emissions from the steel plant.
Both the SENES report and Dr. Lambertís work confirm that downtown Sydney needs remediation. Dr. Lambertís suggests replacing the top foot of soil of residential properties would accomplish several things. It would be a real cleanup that would improve the community and avoid the risk to future generations of being exposed to contaminant levels that pose a real risk. It would also be job-intensive, producing real benefit for residents and local businesses. Less than half of the money saved from changes to the plan that abandoned incineration and landfarming, would accomplish this real benefit to human health and the local economy.
We hope that the direction from the panel is adhered to and the same back-door decisions that led to past failures do not continue. Constructive input from critics of this flawed plan must be given a voice, as the panel has recommended
We need a real cleanup. The current plan is a coverup that fails to meet the criteria promised at the outset.
It is also time to expand the cleanup outside of the fence so that the community benefits and the promised jobs appear.
Bruno Marcocchio, of Sydney, is an environmentalist with the Sierra Club of Canada.