After seven years and $68 million, cleanup stillborn

Letter to the editor from Bruno Marcocchio
Cape Breton Post
Saturday, Jan. 24, 2004

Now that the din has died down from the self-congratulation at what a huge success the JAG process was, it is time for some reflection on what the results of the seven year process amounts to. Are we any further ahead than in 1996 in finding a solution?

Sadly, it is clear now that nothing of substance has been accomplished save a seven year delay in funding the clean up of Canada’s worst hazardous waste site.

The federal and provincial governments have not yet agreed on a funding formula or a cleanup plan and are barely speaking to one another about either. CBRM mayor John Morgan rightly points out that the JAG process has determined neither what technologies are acceptable nor what ones are unacceptable .

The fuzzy recommendations that were the (anti-)climax of the JAG process have not been acted upon by government. The technology demonstration that was supposed to be happening now has been abandoned, and the community that was supposed to be central to the decisions is completely excluded (as is the media).

The Environmental Assessment that was supposed to be completed by April 2004 has yet not begun. In short, we are back to square 1, and another 65 million has gone up in smoke with not a teaspoon of sludge cleaned up.

The offsite burning or co-burning that JAG favoured does not exist as a viable option. The Point Aconi power plant has been ruled out by the local community, by local MP Mark Eyking, and by Nova Scotia Energy minister Cecil Clarke. The US will not accept the waste for co-burning because of the PCB content and the Brookfield cement kiln is not interested. How could so much time and energy have gone into a recommendation that does not exist as a real option?

Ignoring human safety by moving the waste back to the top of the hill is the second and third choice that JAG has proposed. The option favoured by the JAG consultants Conestoga Rovers, is building one or two new incinerators at the coke ovens site and creating a huge new toxic landfill there. This would violate the siting guidelines of the canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment that were promised, at minimum, by the terms of reference of the JAG process. No incinerator can be closer than 1500 meters from homes according to CCME. JAG and its consultants are prepared to ignore this safety measure, violating the promise JAG made at its inception to start at the top of the hill and clean to the bottom.

A safe, cost effective and elegant solution exists to clean up both the PAH and PCB contaminants. The combination of two technologies, thermal desorption (that would concentrate the waste by distilling it into a gas under cover at the ponds) and hydrogen reduction (to break down the concentrated waste into methane gas and salty water with no emissions) were largely ignored by JAG. This solution which can completely destroy all of the waste onsite without harm to the surrounding community, must be employed if people's health is to be protected.

With JAG dead and gone (except for the haunting echoes of self- congratulation), we have to start again to find the political will and adequate funding to safely clean up Canada’s worst hazardous waste site.

Bruno Marcocchio
Sierra Club of Canada, Sydney