Concern for health, water sources highlight Day 3

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Wed., May 3, 2006

Sydney - Potential harm to human health and water sources was the main focus of questions posed by a curious public attending Tuesday's hearing, the first chance citizens had to poke at Sydney's cleanup plans.

Grand Lake Road residents said past adverse effects from Victoria Junction wash plant on Kilkenny Lake, a back-up water supply for New Waterford, should be a "red flag" when assessing risk from incineration emissions. "It's a scientifically proven fact that this site is close enough to impact Kilkenny Lake, which is upstream from the brook (on the wash plant site)," said

Ron Marman, a resident who sat through each hearing at the Victoria Park Armouries in Sydney since they began Saturday.

Agency expert Shawn Duncan said data collected on the wash plant's effect on Kilkenny Lake during operation was included in ecological assessments. It was determined that the lake wouldn't be at further risk. "We're confident we can safely operate the incinerator for a three- to five-year-period," he said.

Marman said Grand Lake Road residents have expressed concern that once all PCB sludge is destroyed, a permit holder would continue using the facility. "Can they apply for a permit to run permanently on the site," asked Marman. "How can you stop someone?"

Frank Potter, acting chief executive officer, said the incinerator is a single-purpose incinerator as stipulated in a memorandum of agreement signed by the federal and provincial governments. It's only to destroy PCBs at the sites. Marman also brought up the history of flooding at the wash plant site. Duncan said 100 years of storm events were evaluated when the wash plant was picked as the preferred site. "It's well outside the area where flooding historically occurred," he said. Marman added that beavers build dams in a brook on site, which has caused flooding in the past.

Agency experts said they are aware of that issue. Henry Lelandais, another Grand Lake Road resident, asked agency experts why the wash plant was put on a list of possible sites. "The VJ wash plant is positioned in a provincial drainage basin," said Lelandais. "How come the site was selected anyway?"

Duncan said that the wash plant property is outside protective measures dictated by the province of Nova Scotia.

Dufferin Harper, a lawyer representing residents living near the tar ponds and coke ovens, repeatedly asked agency experts if the amount of PCBs in the tar ponds could be underestimated. His question came from a Jacques Whitford study completed in 1996 that showed five bore holes drilled in the ponds had unacceptable levels of PCB contamination.

Panel member Wilf Kaiser said the question was moot because PCB pockets identified on site will be excavated "till (bottom)." Any remaining PCBs will be solidified and stabilized. Harper, unsatisfied with the response, asked again if there could be errors in PCB levels.

Kaiser said the agency is confident in its estimations on PCB sediment. He added that more details will be available on the total mass of PCB sediment at the sites, information which panel members requested for a future hearing.

Harper followed his question on possible PCB errors with a question about the chance human health will be at greater risk if the level of PCBs increase. Brian Macgee, the agency's health risk expert, said increased levels of PCBs will make no difference "whatsoever" on health risks. Harper also questioned the timeliness of reporting real-time air monitoring results to the public during remediation work.

The agency responded that the data needs to be evaluated and validated before it's dispersed publicly, which takes at least 24 hours in some situations. The agency also agreed to provide the panel with a list of pollutants that can be monitored, and the specific device capable of doing the monitoring. The list will be provided at a future hearing.

Debbie Oullette, former Frederick Street resident, had concerns about the reliability of hand-held air monitoring when it comes to protecting nearby homeowners during the cleanup. "What's between the residents and the workers is a chain-link fence," said Oullette. "We do swallow contaminants that come off the site." Workers will be protected with safety gear, but residents won't be, she said.

Agency experts said a prudent monitoring process will be used during the work. It was said that there's an emphasis on proper use of hand-held air monitoring equipment to protect workers.

NOTE: Transcripts from each hearing are posted the following day on CEAA's website on the project's registry (reference number 05-05-8989).

Risky business . . .

Elizabeth May, the chief executive officer of the Sierra Club of Canada, asked about the human health risk assessment process used by expert Brian Macgee to identify potential health impacts from the remediation of the Sydney tar ponds and coke oven sites. Here is an excerpt from that discussion, which includes the comprehensive answer from Macgee:

Q: Elizabeth May: "I would like to have some information on what you used as a model and how that risk assessment modeling of vulnerable adults, who are already suffering from disease, how that was undertaken and if it's publicly available."

A: "Brian Macgee: First, I would like to clarify that I am personally not aware that there are vulnerable adults that are any more vulnerable in this community than any other. I would take that as a premise, but I cannot testify to that being the case or not. What is certainly true, is that in the conduct of human health risk assessment, the regulatory agency presents to us the guidance that we must follow and present to us the toxicological reference values that we must follow. Be always mindful, their goal is not to protect an average person in good health, 40-years-old, eats a good diet and doesn't smoke. The entire set of rules and regulations that we operate under assumes that we have to protect the most sensitive individual. For instance, when the toxicological reference value for cancer effect is defined, the government agencies look at all the papers, both human and animal-oriented studies, they take the study that gives the answer to your response at the lowest possible dose, they then take that and model it assuming that there is a straight line linearity at high dose to low dose, i.e.: they assume that there is no protective effect at low doses, that there's a risk even at the lowest possible dose of one atom and one molecule, they then construct a dose response curve. They don't even stop there. They take the upper 95th competence interval on the data and present that number to us. So, that number is so protective, that it's designed to protect the most sensitive individual in any population. That's for cancer."
(He then described the process for non-cancer risk assessment.)

Cleanup in a click
Web sites that provide information on the joint panel process and the remediation plan include:

Picture not available - Elizabeth May: