Panel has questions about tar ponds plan

By Steve MacInnis
Cape Breton Post
Mon., Jan 16, 2006

Sydney - The independent panel reviewing the proposed remediation plan of the Sydney tar ponds has delivered a very pointed 16-item request for additional information to the provincial agency in charge of the cleanup.

The request from Lesley Griffiths, joint review panel chair, is wide ranging and results from a review of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency’s seven-volume, 3,000-page Environmental Impact Statement which concludes its plan will have no significant adverse effects on the health of residents.

The panel’s request includes a demand for a detailed cost breakdown of the proposed $400-million, eight-year plan along more scientific support for the agency’s descriptions of PCB measures in the two ponds.

In a letter to the agency delivered last Friday, the panel notes that the EIS does not appear to clearly describe the mass of PCBs found within the ponds, its distribution or the amount to be destroyed. "A source of information relating to PCBs is not apparent," states the panel.

The panel has asked for a description of how specific PCB estimates were reached along with supporting relevant statistical information. In addition, the panel is asking the agency to comment on its accuracy of estimates on PCB contamination in pond sediments and to provide scientific support that there is no biological degradation of organic contaminants deep in the ponds. As well, the panel makes reference to the EIS guidelines which demand an analysis of alternative remediation technologies.

In its request for information, the panel asks the agency to indicate whether rotary kiln and fluidized bed incinerators are both technically and economically feasible. Also, it asks whether both the onsite and off-site disposal of hazardous wastes are technically and economically feasible. "The EIS appears not to adequately describe alternative site surface and restoration methods for the tar ponds that are technically and economically feasible," stated the panel in its request for an analysis of alternatives.

Debbie Hendriksen, spokesperson for the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, said it is not unusual for the panel to submit questions and it’s hoped the agency will provide a response as soon as possible.

Parker Donham, tar ponds agency spokesperson, said he’s pleased the panel submitted its questions in advance of the Feb. 16 deadline for public comment on the EIS. "It was a big concern for us that all the questions would be coming in on the last day," said Donham, noting the agency has only 14 days after the February deadline to provide a full response to all questions.

The EIS was formally filed last month and details the agency’s plan to clean up the toxic ponds and associated sites. The plan advocates using incineration as its main technology.

Created largely from nearly a century of steel making, the site is contaminated with such chemicals as sulphur, coal tar and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, along with PCBs.

The cleanup plan proposes to incinerate soil containing PAHs and PCBs. The mobile incinerator is to be located at the former Victoria Junction Coal Preparation Station. The plan also includes applications of stabilization and solidification to treat contamination.

The panel has also asked the agency offer comment on conditions that could see the incinerator in use for five years instead of three and whether truck or rail will be used to transport incinerator waste.