Day 5: 'Hope, faith' in cleanup may still be needed, say panel members

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Fri., May 5, 2006

Sydney - A measure of "hope and faith" in the tar ponds cleanup proposal is still needed, surmised members of a joint panel during a presentation made by Environment Canada, Thursday.

"I think we need some help," said panel member William Charles. "Do we have enough information here? Are gaps significant enough that we should have concerns about adverse effects?"

Environment Canada experts presenting at the hearing said there is no information in the cleanup plans that causes them concern but agrees there are limitations on project details and more information would increase the department's comfort level.

Specifically, it recommends more information on data gaps in ambient air concentrations and additional monitoring to verify predictions in project plans. "The panel has to accept certain things on trust because we don't have that information either," said Charles.

The possibility that a permit for disposal at sea is needed before sludge can move from the tar ponds into the harbour was referenced during Environment Canada's presentation. However, when panel members asked about the likelihood that a disposal at sea permit is necessary during cleanup work, department experts said they couldn't speculate on that likelihood. "Is there concern about the exchange of water from the site to the harbour?" continued LaPierre.

The federal department, a regulator and also a responsible authority, said it needs more project design information before it could speak on it further. When prodded, representatives did add that triggers do include tidal action and sediment details.

The federal department said it is asking for more information on the harbour as well. Specifically, the department wants a greater understanding on the level of risk to the harbour. It also recommends a more detailed monitoring program, a doable task it said.

Panel members asked Environment Canada if it was comfortable with leaving 11 per cent of PCBs in the ponds and coke oven sites after they are capped. "Why leave some and remove others?" asked chairperson Lesley Griffiths. The department said the project isn't cut and dry. The department ascertains the overall impact from a cost-benefit analysis and environmental risk. It's been determined that removing all PCBs is too expensive, which means it's acceptable to remove the harmful concentrations of PCBs, which will require the excavation and removal of 120,000 tonnes of sediment. The remaining PCBs will be managed through a solidification and stabilization process.

Health Canada experts presenting Thursday were prodded by community resident Eric Brophy on the need for a health assessment (historical and current health of residents) as opposed to the health risk assessment (health impacts from the project), which was done.

Brophy asked if the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency is meeting its project requirements by doing just a health risk assessment and passing over