Wednesday, May 7, 2003 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Destroy tar ponds toxins, residents tell province

By Tera Camus / Cape Breton Bureau

Sydney - Dig it up and destroy it.

That's what residents picked when selecting options to handle Sydney's toxic waste at the tar ponds and coke ovens sites, says a new government-funded report released Tuesday by the Joint Action Group.

Of about 1,700 residents who filled out a 28-page booklet that listed 10 cleanup options, 1,117 people said burial was totally unacceptable.

The most popular option for dealing with the tar ponds was also the most costly. Some 712 people endorsed an estimated $330-million proposal to dig up 700,000 tonnes of toxic goo and burn it with coal at a power plant.

The rest of the site would be contained by a berm, with bioremediation and soil washing techniques also employed.

Another 1,048 people said on-site incineration was also totally unacceptable.

An incineration scheme that burned 10 years and $55 million but little of the toxic mess was abandoned by the province in 1995 in favour of a burial plan. But the public protested and the federal government rejected that idea by 1996.

As a compromise, both levels of government formed the Joint Action Group to let the public decide what to do with Sydney's toxic waste, created by uncontrolled pollution from government-owned steel and coke plants.

This report is the result of JAG's work after government spent another $62 million, mostly on studies, since formation of the group.

The best option for the coke ovens, located uphill from the tar ponds, is to have the 400,000 tonnes of toxic chemicals washed from the soil or burned off-site at a power plant or cement kiln, 914 respondents said.

That option is estimated to cost $120 million.

"All the methods are safe," consultant Walter van Veen told reporters. "It's just a matter of controlling dust, vapours and emissions. . . . Every time you generate dust, you generate vapours."

But whether the public's voice gets heard is another matter.

"They're not bound by it," JAG chairman Dan Fraser said of government's response to the public, expected before the end of 2004. "We hope they would respect what's acceptable and unacceptable."

Parker Donham, spokesman for the provincial government, didn't have much to say after the report's release.

"Ultimately the responsibility is that of government to make the final decision," Mr. Donham said.

"But we've been through a long difficult process in which this community has been given a voice that no other community in Canada has ever been given on a major cleanup project, so we're going to take that very seriously."

He said fiscal responsibility is also going to play a big part in whatever option government funds.

The report also shows the public has grown tired of JAG. Of the 881 people who filled out that particular portion of the booklet, only nine per cent said they'd like to see JAG continue to exist beyond 2004.

Another 41 per cent said they'd rather get the information through the media.

Environmentalist Bruno Marcocchio said the public deserves more than what the JAG process gave them.

"We need a full Canadian environmental panel review to allow us to look at options that are safe, cost-effective and protective of human health," he said.

"We need public hearings to ensure we don't repeat the mistakes of the past.

"Clearly when you're burning materials with PCBs, you're going to be posing a profound risk to human health and the physical environment."

The results of the report will go to a JAG committee, which will prepare a motion for vote by month's end.

Copyright © 2003 The Halifax Herald Limited