Evasive explanations of toluene laughable, if not chilling

Readings blamed on everything but the obvious

By Bruno Marcocchio
Cape Breton Post
Sat., Sept. 20, 2003

Parker Donham, spokesperson for the provincial Tar Ponds Agency, is making the ludicrous claim that the toluene, a dangerous coal tar constituent, that has been monitored at high levels recently in the air, could not possibly come from the Sysco site where the Domtar tank removal is underway.

According to the formerly respected journalist, the source of the problem could be contamination by the lab, contamination in the canisters used for the testing, tampering with the monitors, or a source somewhere else in the city. Anything but Sysco could be the source of the toluene that has resulted in the strong odors to which residents of Whitney Pier have been exposed lately.

Mr. Donham's claims would be laughable, if this were not a chilling indication of how denial and neglect will be the only response to human health concerns when the clean up gets underway. According to Donham the readings (and presumably the smells) are a mistake or someone else -anyone else except his employer- is responsible. Nova Scotia Environment does not do the monitoring, the Tar Ponds Agency does. The Agency is not yet willing to make the results available. Is anyone protecting our health or has the shadowy TPAgency undermined all regulatory control?

In response to the arsenic contamination that migrated into the community the last time that the site was disturbed in 1999, Mr. Donham wrote on May 16, 1999 " Given its own checkered track record on protecting Sydney's environment, the province is right to treat the Frederick Street residents compassionately. It should also design and implement a continuing program to monitor contaminants along the coke-ovens periphery to track the migration of the toxic plume. And make the results public promptly."

The monitoring is only done once in six or twelve days. The results are not readily available to the public. Why? The monitoring should be done daily to get a picture of what is happening and should be available upon request immediately. Given the province's checkered track record that Mr. Donham repeatedly documented as a journalist what possible justification is there for keeping the monitoring results from the public? Why is the TP Agency and not Nova Scotia Environment doing the testing? Is it to make sure that we don't get the information to press for the voluntary buffer zone around the site the Sierra Club of Canada has been asking for for years?

To protect human health it is obvious that protecting people less than 500 meters from the site is essential. Continuous monitoring that is accessible to the public is a must to ensure we are not at risk. Volatile compounds will be released into the environment whenever the coal contaminants are disturbed. No one, save for the shadowy Agency, is responsible for impacts outside the Sysco property. This will continue to result in the willful neglect that Mr. Donham and his Agency are demonstrating so clearly. For the sake of our families we cannot allow this to happen.

There is no public vehicle to address any of the concerns that area residents have about the dangers inherent in disturbing Canada's worst hazardous waste site. The problems will increase as work on the site continues. Ludicrous public pronouncements are no substitute for protecting human health. Instead of paying expensive spin doctors to victimize us we need empower our community and move people out of harms way.

Bruno Marcocchio, Sierra Club of Canada