Incineration trust poisoned

By Elizabeth Beaton
Cape Breton Post - Weekend Feedback
Sat., Mar. 12, 2005

As a resident of Cape Breton Regional Municipality I wo'uld like to register my concerns about the proposed use of incineration at Victoria Junction to destroy the toxic waste from the tar ponds sludge. I also would like to register my strong objection to any incineration of toxic substances at any place and at any time.

The reason is the human error factor I repeat the summarized statement to me in 2004 by Walter van Veen, consulting engineer during the Joint Action Group process: "No matter what the quality of the technology, one human error can cause serious damage and probable loss of life. It's like a plane crash."

Incineration is even more an issue of public trust than of correct technology. Can the public trust the operator to shut down safely and fully inform the public if there is some failure in the technology?

More to the point, can the government be trusted to enforce safety regulations in case of a breakdown?

Unfortunately recent experience in our area shows that there is good reason for a lack of public trust. The Cape Breton regional municipal incinerator, located in a residential and fast food area on Grand Lake Road near the community of Whitney Pier, has not operated properly and safely for three of the past four years. The operator, CBRM, has not acted with integrity nor has the provincial government enforced the regulations.

CBRM haq finally admitted this lapse with the requirement to shut down the operation by the end of 2005. Still, one municipal councillor has persisted in declaring that it is a "perfectly good incinerator". We have to question both the integrity and the intelligence of our municipal government, but just as important we have to question the imperative of money in continuing incineration. Worse, the work of Marlene Kane in proving that the incinerator was not working properly was ignored and disparaged by CBRM the past several years.

People of this area may not comprehend the intricacies of incineration technology (I certainly don't). They may not fully articulate their understanding of public trust. But they certainly do understand that arrogance found in the failure to respond to the serious concerns of residents leaves them the option of removing from office the politicians who have in effect put them in potential danger.

I am urging the federal government to consider the consequences of forcing a potentially dangerous technology on a constituency that has declared emphatically and with good reason that it does not want it.

One way for government to act responsibly is to have a full panel review of the cleanup plan. Another way is to listen carefully to the people.

Money will continue to be a factor in the demands of consultants, contractors and sub-contractors to use incineration. Government may be tempted to look upon this exercise as economic development. It is the same motivation that placed the toxic problem in our back yards in the first instance.

Elizabeth Beaton, PhD, teaches at
Cape Breton University