Buyout program should be offered within a radius

By Bruno Marcocchio
Cape Breton Post - Weekend Feedback
Saturday, Mar. 27, 2004

The Sydney Tar Ponds Agency recently purchased two homes on Hankard Street that are contaminated with coal tars and metals. These homes are farther away from the source of contamination than many other homes both in Whitney Pier and the rest of Sydney.

Homes in the north end on Intercolonial and Dorchester that had very high readings of both coal tars and metals were offered no remediation or a buyout plan. Homes on Laurier and Lingan Road that have elevated metals and PAHs have not been offered a buyout of any kind despite public pleas from concerned parents wanting to move their families to a safe place. These and other homes are closer to the coke ovens than the Hankard homes that are being bought and demolished. Why are they not offered the same choice when the levels of contamination are similar?

Using risk assessment, the permissible levels of metal contaminants like lead and arsenic in soil were doubled and redoubled. In Sydney, contamination can be legally ignored at levels that would prompt immediate action to protect human health in other communities. The homes that exceed even those obscene, political "acceptable" standards are largely ignored. How can the provincial Tar Ponds Agency select who they will buyout and who continues to be left in harms way? This agency works without public scrutiny or public accountability. It is time for a transparent public policy that would offer a voluntary buyout to anyone who lives closer than 300 meters from the site.

None of the funding agreements between the governments have included any promise of responsibility, or funding, for clean up outside the Sysco fence. With the recent publication of two papers by independent scientists that suggest homes surrounding the site are contaminated and pose a health threat to children we need to broaden the scope of the proposed cleanup. These two papers by Lambert/Lane and Furimsky can be accessed at . Despite the TP Agency's wish to keep the issue of contamination in the community away from any public scrutiny, the time has come to end the denial. The plan to limit public involvement to a carefully self-selected liaison committee empowered only to give advice is evidence of the failure to consider human health impacts outside the fence. Closed-door meetings that exclude even the media will ensure no transparency or accountability for the cleanup.

The study that was completed nearly three years ago by Paul Moore of Health Canada, which showed significant contamination in the community, has not yet been released to the public. Why? We must have all the information available before we commit to another wasteful and ineffective cleanup effort of Canada's worst toxic waste site.

A fund of 50 million dollars to offer a voluntary buyout within a 300-meter buffer zone of the site is an essential first step in any cleanup plan. It is the only socially responsible approach to the problem. It would also be, by far, the least expensive way to deal with contaminated homes. Continuing to deny the inevitable need to remediate homes surrounding the site will be ineffective and wasteful.

The Tar Ponds Agency is an impediment to good decisions, coherent public policy, fiscal responsibility and the democratic input of stakeholders. We need the federal government to take a strong lead in the cleanup plans and public policy issues. We need a transparent and open process, one that finally ends the denial and gets on with protecting and rebuilding our community.

Bruno Marcocchio
Sierra Club of Canada, Sydney