On the contrary, JAG failed its own mandate

Letter to the editor from Bruno Marcocchio
Cape Breton Post
Saturday, Feb. 7, 2004

Dan Fraser’s letter (Once the process got rolling, progress toward cleanup was rapid, Jan. 31, 2004) was a testament to how disingenuous Dan Fraser and his leadership was during his tenure as JAG chair. There was hardly a point made by him that was accurate.

Characterization of the waste and the full extent of the contamination are still unfinished. As Edward Furimsky pointed out in an article in Environmental Management in 2002 an extensive sampling program must be undertaken in the community to determine the full extent of the contamination. JAG did none of this. In addition the PCB contamination in the pond is still not completed. The province halted the complete testing before JAG got underway and was never completed by JAG. In fact they ignored the largest 30,000-ton PCB hotspot and did not cost its removal. They fully intended to dilute it to below 50 parts per million by testing it in 500 to 1000 ton batches and then burning it, disregarding the health impacts of such a dangerous practice. JAG also refused to characterize the extent of the pollution plume that they outlined moves into Whitney Pier west of the coke ovens. The radioactive leachate that comes from the dump and onto the coke ovens was also ignored.

If he was not deliberately misleading in his description of hydrogen reduction he learned nothing about the technology. It is not an incineration technology; you cannot burn anything without oxygen. It produces no emissions, which is what makes it inherently safe to the surrounding community. It works for both the coal tars and PCB in the pond without the need to ignore the real risks by diluting the PCB to “acceptable” but dangerous levels.

Representatives from Eco Logic who supply the technology were in Sydney recently and pointed out that they can complete the job for the same money and in the same time as the JAG option 3 for the cleanup of the ponds. Mr. Fraser has been told repeatedly that with the thermal desorption (under cover) to concentrate the pollutants as the first step of the process the hydrogen reduction can easily handle the waste in a timely fashion. Why he persists in maligning this Canadian technology is hard to comprehend. Perhaps he never understood that doing no additional harm to our community is the first priority for a cleanup.

Considerations of the impacts on the community were systematically ignored by all the proposals JAG brought forward. Incineration close to people would be disastrous and is unnecessary. Two new 60 foot high toxic landfills at the coke ovens that the JAG proposed in their plan is unacceptable and unnecessary.

Mr. Fraser takes credit for federal and provincial infrastructure projects, and implies that the downturn in employment in the area is because JAG has ended. Closing the JAG office did not create a blip on employment statistics.

The bloated secretariat failed miserably to do the task set out before them. Despite a laudable commitment by many volunteers, including local members of the Sierra Club of Canada, JAG accomplished nothing in seven years save to stall any action. Mr. Fraser’s claim that the Sierra Club of Canada worked closely with the mayor to put an end to the JAG partnership is a bizarre backhanded compliment. Sierra Club of Canada has worked tirelessly, both locally and through our Ottawa office to ensure that the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds stays on the government’s agenda. The recent speech from the throne is evidence of this ongoing commitment. Unlike Dan Fraser, the Sierra Club embraces the Martin government’s commitment to innovative environmental technology. The Eco Logic zero discharge domestic Canadian technology should be demanded for Sydney, rather than the dirty old methods of burn and bury.

The Sierra Club of Canada has and will continue to engage all levels of government to find a safe, effective, viable, transparent and socially responsible solution to Canada’s worst hazardous waste site. Perhaps Mr. Fraser’s paranoia stems from the fact that we intend to find solutions embodied in the JAG mission statement; a mission that JAG has failed utterly to deliver. Those of us that want a safe, effective speedy resolution to the contamination will continue to find ways to work toward our common goals.

A reality check will show Mr. Fraser that JAG has failed on every principle set out in its mission statement. His disingenuous attacks on the messengers -those of us that are prepared to say the JAG emperor is wearing no clothes- is nothing more than self serving rationalization.

Bruno Marcocchio
Sierra Club of Canada, Sydney