Writer defends environmentalist - takes JAG process to task

By Dan McMullin
Cape Breton Post - Weekend Feedback
Saturday, Mar. 13, 2004

I am compelled to respond to Francis Sirois's letter (Weekend Feedback: Before recommending cleanup options, JAG did its homework thoroughly- Feb. 14), for I feel his response focuses more on attacking Mr. Marcocchio and the Sierra Club than it does on presenting the facts.

I won't resort to personal sniping. It simply muddies the water causing the readers to focus on the bickering and cheap shots, instead of the meatier issues at hand.

Mr. Sirois first objects to Mr. Marcocchio's citing of the Furimsky report (2002), but he misses the point entirely. Furimsky decried the lack of sampling "OUTSIDE the fence"; specifically the adjacent SYSCO property.

"It is evident that the leachability and hazardous characteristics of the waste in the Sysco plant and surrounding area were not determined according to the prescribed procedures. It is essential that a series of properly selected samples be subjected to such evaluation before developing a strategy to deal with the Sydney Tar Ponds issue. It is unlikely that this problem can be successfully solved without such information."

It should be quite evident now to both JAG and its government partners that there are at least 290 other Sydney residents that feel the same way Furimsky does, and they are proceeding to litigation to gain redress. (Residents prepare to file injury claims linked to tar ponds: CB Post - Feb. 4) Despite the thousands of expensive tests, the JAG process failed miserably to deal with the very people whose lives and properties are most affected; those immediately outside that arbitrary chain-link fence.

I must also contest Mr. Sirois's claims of JAG's adherence to CCME guidelines. I attended the Roundtable meeting of May 28 , when Councillor Vince Hall tried valiantly and failed to get a seconder to a motion that would have required JAG's final remediation proposal to adhere to those very CCME guidelines. The silence of JAG members on that motion spoke volumes that night.

Inexplicably, Mr. Sirois takes great pains to muddy the waters on the PCB issue, quoting figures of 35,000 then 18,704 and finally 1.2 tonnes! "PCB-contaminated sediments represents a rather minor percentage of the whole cleanup job for the site - some 1.2 tonnes overall." He further minimizes the impact of PCBs at the site when he says that "PCB was just an insulating oil...". In fact PCBs are recognized worldwide as pervasive cancer-causing toxics that have worked their way up the food chain and bioaccumulate in polar bears hundreds of miles from civilization. PCBs have been cited as one of the so-called "Dirty Dozen" POPs (persistent organic pollutants) by the Stockholm Convention, while Canada has decided that their release to the environment should be virtually eliminated. Because of the large quantities of PCBs at the tar ponds site, Greenpeace has listed Sydney as one of the top 50 POPs Hotspots Worldwide! This is no minor issue, and should not have been minimized by Mr. Sirois.

Once excavation of the sludge begins at the site, the very process of digging it up will mix the PCB-laden sludge with the non-PCB-laden sludge. (not unlike mixing a pot of toxic stew) Canadian regulations dictate that "PCB material" is material whose PCB concentration is above 50 parts per million (50 ppm). Once you stir the pot, you can expect the PCB concentration to drop. The result will likely be more loads of sludge below 50 ppm; more "burnable" sludge. US regulations are far more stringent; sludge with PCB content above 2 ppm would not be burnable. Make no mistake, burning tar ponds sludge will mean incinerating PCBs, and that can't be permitted to happen.

So what's the fuss about burning PCBs you may well ask? Incinerating PCBs produces dioxins and furans (approximately 100,000 times more toxic than PCBs themselves!) These deadly POPs also make there way up the food chain to humans, where they are stored in fatty tissue. Like PCBs, they accumulate there, and are not easily removed. There is simply NO SAFE WAY to burn PCB-laden sludge at ANY concentration or any location. Trucking it to Pt. Aconi or Belldunne (NB) is unconscionable. Why should they pay the price for Sydney's sludge?

It is the Sierra Club's position that "Co-burning" is simply incineration. Adding the toxic dried sludge pellets gradually to the current fuel mix at the Pt. Aconi power plant (IE. Co-burning) would simply slow down the toxic transfer; the total impact to the environment would eventually be the same as burning it directly.

Mr. Sirois's suggestion that NSPI's use of dried tar pond sludge might gain us a 10% electrical bill reduction borders on the bizarre! "Who knows? If Nova Scotia Power Inc. actually decides to co-operate, this might even help stave off yet another electricity bill increase". NSPI has its own set of environmental problems, not the least of which has been its ranking as number 1 polluter in Nova Scotia and a number 8 spot in North America for its Lingan plant. (Lingan Plant Province's Top Polluter: CB Post - Sept. 24, 2003).

Ironically, NSPI's so-called "low emission" fluidized bed incinerator at Point Aconi was the province's 4th. place polluter, only marginally better that the "low-tech-high-emission" Point Tupper plant. (Pt. Aconi's rated output is 165 MW, while Point Tupper's is 150) The reason for Pt. Aconi's less than stellar performance is likely it's heavy use of petroleum coke, one of the dirtiest (and cheapest) fuels to be found today; a fuel that is banned in many jurisdictions because of it's high sulphur content and emission of heavy metals.

Apparently, removing Prince Mine coal from the fuel mix, and upping the pet coke content helped alleviate some serious problems at Pt. Aconi . Why then would NSPI agree to mess with their current fuel mix without being handsomely compensated. JAG s own costing figures could have us pay up to $100 per tonne to NSPI for burning tar pond sludge. (exclusive of drying and transportation costs) In Mr. Sirois's words, "dare I dream of" of another INCREASE in my electrical bill or taxes?!

Lest I be accused of NSPI bashing, I see NSP/Emera as a private company whose goal (like any other company) is to make a profit for its share holders. It's the provincial government's job to see that they don't do that to the detriment of the tax payers or the environment.

Mr. Sirois continues to try to discredit Eco Logic's Thermal Desorption/Hydrogen Reduction process as a viable remediation solution, one that would avoid the many pitfalls of incineration. Nearly a year ago, I initially asked about Eco Logic's solution at my first JAG meeting. I didn't get an adequate or informed response to my query then, and things haven't changed!

Mr. Sirois first cites Eco Logic's alleged poor performance at the New Bedford Harbour (Mass.) Superfund site. Parker Donham used this very issue to derail my comments at a "Pt. Aconi meeting" months ago. After much searching and phone calls to the US, I was eventually contacted by the EPA co-project manager, one Jim Brown. I include his email comments (July 15, 2003): "We did demonstrate that the thermal desorption/gas phase chemical destruction technology provided by Eco Logic was a feasible alternative for the treatment of PCB contaminated sediments from the New Bedford Harbor." He went on to applaud the residents of Sydney for not burying the problem. In the US munitions case Sirois cites, they opted for "plasma arc", a technology they had used for years before they even looked at Eco Logic's GPCR solution.

Sirois further comments that Eco Logic's 2-phase solution is not a "closed loop" system, citing emission stacks visible in their recent Sydney presentation. Had he asked his question at the presentation, they would have explained that there was one stack on the thermal desorber, a boiler stack (a boiler is used to make steam for the GPCR process), and a "product gas" flare stack. Before this product gas (natural gas) is either emitted or burned, it is first held and tested to make sure it is free of contaminants. A poor test result would result in the gas being re-processed. Eco Logic's recent successes in both Slovakia and the Phillippines actually hinged on its performance and reputation as a "closed loop" system - no harmful emissions are released to the environment.

Santerro, Eco Logic's partner company in charge of thermal desorption, has considerable experience with very large projects both domestically and abroad, and can handle the bulk of the tar ponds sludge with ease. Thermal desorption is a seasoned technology that has been shown to be more economical than incineration (with large projects) in treating hydrocarbon-laced soils. What Santerro hands off to Eco Logic is only a very small amount of condensed toxic liquid, which Eco Logic then destroys in its reactor.

The time has come for the federal government (specifically Environment Canada) to show strong direction in choosing a safe and effective technology for this mammoth cleanup of the tar ponds. Let's put aside the bickering and work together, not for personal gain, but to ensure a safe environment on this beautiful island for generations to come.

Dan McMullin
Glace Bay