Advocacy committee makes case against incineration

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Thurs., Mar. 3, 2005

Sydney - A health advocacy committee in Cape Breton is putting pressure on government to select non-incineration methods to destroy PCB-laden sludge from the tar ponds and coke ovens sites.

Wednesday, the Cape Breton Save Our Health Care Committee released a professional review of a project description and scoping document authored by AMEC Earth and Environmental.

Jim Argo, a chemist specializing in medical geography for IntrAmericas Centre for Environment and Health, prepared the committee’s response to the documents. "The soil quality guidelines are not nearly stringent enough," Argo said from his Ontario office. "Higher standards for the cleanup is necessary."

Argo, who also criticized a report prepared by JDAC Environmental in 2001, said he’s not "comfortable" with the way a site was selected for a proposed temporary incinerator that will burn PCB sludge. "The criteria they use are subjective," he said.

Although he said he didn’t know enough about the topography of the area to make an objective choice, he said he doesn’t see much difference in the Victoria Junction site and the Phalen Mine site listed in the project description. "They should come up with a better method."

Argo said he’s also concerned that the health of residents living near the proposed incinerator site isn’t considered as highly as those working at the incinerator.

Brian Magee, vice-president and principal toxicologist at AMEC Earth and Environmental, said he agreed with the majority of Argo’s concerns listed in the review. However, he did make some clarifications. The soil quality guidelines Argo referred to in his review were not intended for future site use but were listed as acceptable levels for dumping contaminated soil at approved landfills, said Magee. When the tar ponds and coke ovens are remediated, the most stringent guidelines for parkland use will be adhered to, he said.

Magee also agreed that the differences among four possible sites for the temporary incinerator are quite small. The top option is the Victoria Junction wash plant along the Sydney-Glace Bay Highway. Following closely behind are Phalen Mine, North Head and public property adjacent to the municipal landfill. AMEC Earth and Environmental short listed the sites by determining if residences were located within 500 metres of the property’s boundary, that the land was within 20 kilometres of the tar ponds, and if it was owned by the federal, provincial or municipal governments. The land also had to be big enough to handle the incinerator — more than two hectares.

Magee said that an environmental assessment will evaluate the proposed sites in greater detail before a final decision is made. "We’ll be evaluating more than the VJ plant," he said.

Human health is also identified as a serious consideration in the scoping document, said Magee. The project definition deals mostly with the health and safety of workers at the sites. "These are all things we should be and will be evaluating," said Magee. "(Argo) is getting into details we’re not ready for. It’s a little early in the process."